dir: Bryan Coyne, 2015
The recent history of found footage films is not unlike Eddie Murphy’s career; they reimagined their forebears, only to sputter in recent years, struggling to peddle their merits with tired and (ironically) overproduced caricatures of themselves.
It’s fair to say that I’m not a real staunch fan of found footage films. Or post-Norbit Eddie Murphy.
But I digress.
Infernal is a found footage film. More specifically, it’s a pretty decent found footage film. This is important to note because in the land of gimmickry “decent” is royalty.
The film follows a young couple who discover that their daughter, Imogene, is more than she appears to be. Shit snowballs as the child, or whatever is influencing her, begins to wreak havoc on the family’s daily lives.
From the jump, the film makes no bones about it being a supernatural horror film. That much is clear from the introductory scene, which is about as frightening for its thematic suggestions as it is for the awkwardness of the (forced) marriage proposal.
Infernal lies on the same spectrum of “scary children” movies as Omen and Rosemary’s Baby. While all three play with deeper subtext, Infernal is probably the lightest of them. In spite of its long-ish runtime, Infernal is clearly here to provide sublime scares, not lecture you with subtext. These scares however tend to feel passe’. Homages are one thing, and there are many a callback to its ancestors (The Omen being the most apparent.) But, I think overall Infernal suffers from over-saturation more than anything else. Put simply: there have been too many films in this specific subset of film that have done the exact same thing, leaving us with a dead horse that should have never been kicked in the first place. In spite of this, Infernal perseveres, refusing to veer into the “downright terrible” bucket.
This brings me back to my original point: the film is decent. It’s not bad, by any real measure. But it does fail to break out of the monotonous tropes, tricks, and trails that [insert any scary children/possession/demonic presence film here] have done before it. Add in the fact that many of these stories have also just been bad films, and you’re losing a good apple to a barrel of shitty ones.
This is a tragedy of sorts because found footage, when done well, can be an effective and emotive form of cinema. Infernal is at its best when it captures this; the little moments and the incredibly private ones, the crosscutting between locations for tension, the fly-on-the-wall moments, etc. They all help build a palette of experiences that, both directly and indirectly, dictate how we understand the narrative world.
The film drags however, when it plays too heavily on sonic cues, plot holes, and some stilted performances that leave more questions than tension. For instance: it’s unclear as to who can hear the demonic presence, as signaled by a track of deep, distorted laughing. The only characters who react to it are the priest and Imogene herself. In addition, much like Insidious, there are questions as to why the family would choose to remain in the house at all, considering the various supernatural incidents. Lastly, Nathan’s declining mental state was a bit difficult to watch. Partially because I think the film insisted on making the connection between his waffling and the demonic presence holding sway in the house. Thus, there was a bit more explanation (mostly through some iffy dialogue) than we needed to realize what was what.
I know it sounds likes I’m beating on Infernal a lot, but it’s my job. And secondly, I’m parsing a lot of this stuff out because I appreciate the film for what it is: a found footage film, and a horror found footage film at that, that isn’t god awful. That being said, the best things that stood out to me about Infernal is its consistent usage of framing. There are some gorgeous shots in the film that highlight space with simple positioning of the camera. This is especially true during the latter half of the film in Imogene’s room. The drastic lines of her ceiling cut into the frame from its apex, opening outwards and directing our eyes to the sinister door that her dark visitor approaches from. This shot becomes increasingly menacing over the course of the film. It’s really just great, because you end up being afraid of the space, and by association *that shot*, regardless of the situation.
For better or worse, Infernal has potential but lacks the pizazz factor to completely separate it from the pack. One could argue this is because it suffers from being in a specific genre subset that lacks quality across the board. Thus, if you’re turned off by found footage you wouldn’t even sniff in this film’s direction. However, I do think that Infernal deserves merit for existing as it does in its genre. If you excise the froth of shitty iterations, and simply jump from The Blairwitch Project to Paranormal Activity to Cloverfield to Infernal, found footage maintains worthiness as a cinematic mode that deserves more exploration. And, if nothing else, that fact makes a film like Infernal worth watching in the longrun.
Infernal is set to release on DVD next month. But you can catch it now digitally on demand.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope