Three individuals each receive an anonymous, unmarked video camera and a horrific ultimatum to continue filming or die. Experience the terror through the eyes of these unsuspecting victims, with a chain of found-footage events so real and absolutely dreadful, you'll have to watch it again to believe it.
I have always believed that it’s not always the way the movie ends that matters, it’s how you get there. While it’s true that many a bad ending have ruined films for me in the past, it isn’t always the case. Of course it’s ideal that the viewer be left in the dark when it comes to big twist endings that everyone will be talking about; but if the film is strong enough throughout, the setup should be as important than the ultimate payoff. In real life, when people are faced with the things similar to what we see in horror films, there isn’t always closure. It’s probably quite rare to have everything tidied up all nice and some form of justice handed down. As sad as it is, bad things happen to good people and there is hardly ever a reason for it that we could ever understand. In this new found footage film (I’m getting very close to scrapping that term from my vocabulary and only referring to it as first person ordeal) things finish off in what I believe to be a spectacularly inferior way to what we see during the rest of the ordeal. I won’t spoil it for you, although it would hardly matter. But I also want you to see this film, because in spite of a bad ending, it’s pretty damn suspenseful.
The year is 1995. A married couple, a young man living with his mother, and a young female student living alone all receive an anonymous delivery on their doorstep – a box with a video camera inside. At first, they all seem to think the delivery is due to a contest entry they vaguely remember filling out at the mall. Only the young man, portly and bearded wearing a Melvins t-shirt – he is hyper enthusiastic and lacking in any reasonable level of common sense, doesn’t seem to care where his video camera came from. He just thinks it’s cool – oh, and he also receives a clown suit and makeup kit with his camera.
Soon enough, they all get a message that they are not to stop filming. This message is accompanied by a horrific video of a young boy being shot after screaming, “I did everything you said! I never stopped filming!” The age-old conundrum in found footage of “Why didn’t they put the camera down and run?” has been officially served: keep filming if you want to live. Plus, there has to be at least a little bit of curiosity in the characters as to what the heck the point is to all of this.
This film ends no differently than all found footage films, but as I said, the reason for it all and the way it wraps up is head scratching and eye roll inducing. To be honest, I watch a lot of horror movies like I’m doing an Aubrey Plaza impression. As if to say to the screen, “Scare me. I dare you,” only to laugh in it’s face at its not-scariness. Well, the thing that makes Mockingbird so watchable and fun is its incredible pacing and editing together of all of its characters’ individual ordeals. Director and writer Bryan Bertino (who previously brought us The Strangers – which is a film I loved, even though many did not) keeps the action tight, uses lighting, color and music (Beethoven, Mozart, Grieg, Berlioz) in an effective way, and sort of makes you forget you’re watching a found footage film. And even though I have to say I didn’t like the ending, the final scene was amazing to look at with all of that red and translucence. The visual esthetics are enough for me to appreciate it, and I just didn’t think the ending detracted enough from rest of the film. Mockingbird may be the most visually stunning found footage film I’ve ever seen.
The actors in the film are mostly unknown – or at least I didn’t know them. The one familiar face is the mother of the guy who gets the clown suit. Her name is Lee Garlington and she’s had guest roles on practically every TV show since the 80s. She also played Myrna in Psycho 2 and 3 (yeah, nobody is allowed to complain about sequels anymore, they’ve been doing this shit for decades). The unknown cast works well in this. The film has a pretty slow setup, but the interactions between characters – some only by telephone – feel real. Unlike other films of this type where the acting ruins the believability, with Mockingbird it’s easy to get drawn in and feel something for this mostly likable bunch of people. Once the movie switches into suspense mode, it never slows down and the acting maintains the same level of realism.
If you enjoy feeling nervous for fictional characters, and why wouldn’t you if you watch scary movies, then check this out soon. It probably won’t have the staying power of many of your favorites and the end might make you grumble, or maybe I’m being silly and the ending is actually awesome. Anything is possible. But I’m confident in proclaiming Mockingbird’s 95% originality. Perhaps they would have been better off keeping it open-ended, like the way those real-life ordeals often are. But if you stay open minded, you might get something you’re looking for out of Mockingbird. I certainly did.