388 Arletta Avenue Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by Tribeca Film
Written and directed by Randall Cole
2011, 87 minutes, Rated R
VOD release on May 15th, 2012
Released on May 18th, 2012
Nick Stahl as James
Mia Kirshner as Amy
Devon Sawa as Bill
Krista Bridges as Katherine
I'm a huge lover of the found footage horror subgenre, and believe it's yielded some of the creepiest and most entertaining films of the last several years. Recently though, there's been a bit of an influx of them (like this year's soul-suckingly abysmal The Devil Inside and the aptly named Atrocious), all trying to cash in by jumping on the Paranormal Activity series-driven bandwagon. One of the latest such offerings is 388 Arletta Avenue, not a horror film so much as thriller, and not thrilling so much as tiresome.
We follow the story through the lenses of many, many cameras set up in secret by a faceless psycho to spy on James (Nick Stahl) and his wife Amy (Mia Kirshner). How many cameras, you ask? No fewer than ten in their house, four in James' car (including in the headlight?), and even three at James' office. Radio Shack must have had one hell of a fire sale.
James and Amy seem to be a pretty happily married couple at the start, although there are hints that James' drinking may have caused some problems in the past. One day they start noticing some strange things. Their bedroom alarm clock goes off in the middle of the night, though neither one admits to setting it. James finds a mix CD in his car that neither he nor Amy made. And after a minor morning spat, James comes home from work to find Amy missing.
Everyone tells him that Amy probably just left for a few days to cool off, but James senses otherwise. He gets phone calls with no one on the other end. And their pet cat is acting strange. Who could be behind it? A vindictive coworker? Bill (Devon Sawa), a beady-eyed war veteran that James used to bully in high school? Amy's sister, Katherine (Krista Bridges)? James' plight is intriguing initially, but we can't feel too bad for the guy since everything we know about him says he's a jerk.
Stahl isn't a bad actor, and he's had some great roles as boyish but unhinged characters in movies like Bully and Sin City. But he is pretty bland here, which is a shame since it's up to him to carry the entire movie. Sawa's character is actually the most interesting, but he is given very little screen time and only serves as one of the film's red herrings. And while there's certainly something scary about nameless, motiveless maniacs targeting normal people for no apparent reason (see Ils and The Strangers), I found it frustrating that we weren't given more with this particular villain. He's never shown as more than just a tech-savvy creeper, although I guess I prefer that to some trite "surprise" reveal.
I think the most irritated question people ask during found footage horror films is, once the shit starts to hit the fan Blair Witch Project-style, "Why are they still taping?!" To its credit, Arletta Ave avoids this pitfall with its use of the kidnapper's hidden cameras. However, in doing so it also dispenses with any more visceral scares that might have been had. The handheld camera work in movies like Blair Witch, Grave Encounters, and Paranormal Activity not only added authenticity to their proceedings, but also gave them a first person, you-are-there feeling, immersing the viewer and making them complicit in the unfolding horror. Here we're watching everything from a distance, at various static angles, and thus it's impossible to feel involved in what's going on.
If you've seen a few of these found footage movies (I looked on IMDB and there are tons that I'd never even heard of, just more evidence that this subgenre's being run into the ground), you know they never end well, and this one's no exception. It's the type of ending I like to see in a horror film, and while it wasn't a total shocker, it wasn't unsatisfying either.
The film has a few unnerving moments that will help you stave off falling asleep before it's over, but they're too few and far between to overcome its unsympathetic and underdeveloped characters and its unaddressed plot holes (if this is found footage, who found it? Why is it being shown to us?). This one might have worked better as a straightforward narrative, but its attempt to put a spin on what's quickly becoming a tired subgenre does it more harm than good.
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