WARNING: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO AVOID SPOILERS WHEN REVIEWING THIS MOVIE! PROCEED WITH CAUTION!
A group of New York socialites hit the town fuelled by drink, drugs and desire but when the group are let down by their coke dealer they head into the seedier end of the city to meet a friend. It is here, in an empty bar, that they cross paths with Jackie, a young girl on her own. When she agrees to go back to their penthouse what initially starts out as a good time quickly deteriorates into something far more sinister.
‘The Upper Footage’, known simply as ‘Upper’ in some territories, is the latest addition to the found footage sub-genre. Shot using a single handheld it purports to catalogue the fateful events leading to the death of a young girl and the attempts of a number of rich kids to cover it up. The film has created a huge storm in America in both genre and mainstream press on the back of marketing that heavily suggests the film is real. It begins with a number of written frames setting this up telling a dark story of extortion, cover ups and press campaigns to ban the film. This is a strategy that ‘The Blair Witch Project’ used in the 1990s, which in turn borrowed it from ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ amongst others, and it is clear that it has been vastly successful; ‘The Upper Footage’ caused such a furore on legitimate news coverage that director Justin Cole had to release a statement confirming the movie as fake. Nevertheless, the movie seems to have been positively received thus far and it is clearly a textbook example of just how important clever marketing is to the success, or not, of a new movie. Sadly, the movie does not live up to its marketing.
First of all, the movie is so clearly a fiction that I am frankly amazed anyone was taken in. This is in large part due to the performances which are amateurish and one note throughout. I accept that the verite style the director wanted has some degree of amateurishness inherent within it, but it is distracting here; there are times, especially in the last half, where it feels more like an experimental student production. The script also feeds into this; if the film were to edit out any dialogue in which one person yells at another person to shut up, or in which the word ‘fuck’ is used as a single exclamation, the film would run for half the time. Much of the alternative dialogue is similarly dreary and repetitive, and Taylor, the lone female character, is left with nothing to do but snivel and cry for almost an hour. A scene towards the end where two characters bicker about how to dispose of a body is a particular highlight however. The characters are incredibly thinly drawn and obnoxious; whilst it is a sad fact of life that people this unpleasant exist, it does not mean they are any fun to spend time with in real life or on film.
‘The Upper Footage’ also suffers from many of the problems that are inherent with found footage movies. It does a reasonable job of explaining why the events are being filmed especially towards the end and, in all fairness, it is perfectly serviceable. For once I had no moment of disbelief at the recording continuing throughout. It is very poorly shot with one scene showing nothing but someone’s hair for well in excess of five minutes, and another showing nothing but blackness for at least double that. This makes the film very boring to look at and little effort is made to engage the audience visually; ‘The Upper Footage’ could be performed on radio with no detriment to its narrative. As with the characters, I understand that a ‘real-world’ version of this film would be shot thusly but when you are constructing a movie some effort should be made to give your audience something to actually see. As part of the ‘this film is real’ the face of the dead girl Jackie is pixelated ‘in respect to the victim’s family’. In actuality this is apparently due to the actress concerned complaining about a scene she shot, and the director agreeing to obscure her identity so she did not delay the film’s release; another good example of Justin Cole’s marketing savvy and he must be praised for turning a big chunk of bad luck into a key plot contrivance that really serves his film.
To a large extent, ‘The Upper Footage’ is a difficult film to review. Essentially it is a tale of two halves; the second half of the film is vastly better than the first, the idea is vastly better than the script and performances, and the marketing is vastly better than the film itself. I’m not even sure that it is a horror film regardless of what the PR department would have us believe. Whilst the film’s central conceit is horrible it fits ill within the genre and I suspect it is being pushed to us simply because there is a bigger marker for low budget horror than low budget drama, which is actually what it is. Did I enjoy it? No, not really, although it does finish strongly. Would I recommend it? Yes I would. ‘The Upper Footage’ is like ‘The Blair Witch Project’ in many ways but most of all, I suspect, in the way it will completely polarise those who have seen it. It left me bored, cold and frustrated but others should also give it a try for no other reason than to see what the fuss is about.
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