It’s a troubling sign when the publicity for a film prefers to talk about the film-making techniques more than the story or characters. It’s especially worrying when those techniques are given buzzwords like Hyperreal, or make grandiose claims like being ‘The World’s First Selfie Movie’. It conjures memories, not just of films like Colin, a zombie film that’s big hook was that it was made for £45, but for films like Boyhood and Birdman that both had gimmicks that only served to distract from the plot, rather than add anything interesting to it.
Imagine my surprise then, when a film that uses such buzzwords, has a hashtag in the title, or that’s press tells you to take selfies of yourself watching it (Jesus they’re digging their own grave with that one. There are a good few movie critics who will pan it for that alone, without even watching the film), uses its shooting style to further its ideas and develop its characters.
Yes, #STARVECROW, has a brain behind it and a demented one at that. The film touts its story as a twisted tale of obsessive and destructive love. A relationship between a vulnerable and fragile girl and a controlling and disturbed man. The film is filmed mostly from the point of view of Ben, the man with an obsessive compulsion to film everything and everyone he comes into contact with. It is his character that explains the premise of the film to the viewer. He has hacked and stolen several hours’ worth of footage from other people’s mobile phones. This is his film. His own little project. His attempt at capturing real life and exposing the rotting corruption of those around him. All captured on set with footage taken by the actors. A world first apparently.
The film can feel like an anthology at points. The narrative travels from one group of people to the next, cutting between relationships and families, parties and private time. The cast do a really good job of making the film feel natural and unscripted. People talk over one another, exchanges feel spontaneous, and only conscious attempts to tell a story break the immersion. The sense of reality is heightened by the use of real camera phone footage interspersed throughout.
It’s that verisimilitude that really allows the film to work. You are uncomfortably close to the characters. The distance between them and the audience is intimate, almost exhilaratingly so. But it feels invasive and wrong. Especially as you constantly have the point of view of the person holding the camera perpetrating these invasions of privacy, making you an accomplice. You empathise with the person on the receiving end, feeling their distress as the fun and games go too far and they want their privacy back.
It creates a real sense of psychological horror as the character’s motivations are revealed, as are their depths of their depravity. This is real skin crawling stuff. The situations are the kind we all know are far too common in our communities, to mention them would be to deprive you of the sense of shock the filmmakers are going for. These are the kinds of crimes that come from the inevitable dehumanisation technology like mobile phones cause. A huge theme of the film is how people are so engrossed in turning their real life into their entertainment and their friends into the characters in their little stories, they forget that these “characters” are human beings. It’s the kind of deep-seeded horror that taps into the fundamental terrors of real life, the kind that affect you or those you know on a personal level.
These scenes are made shockingly real by the filmmaker’s frank shooting style. The only times they pull their punches is if they are filming something that is illegal to show in the UK. Horrible moments of abuse and animal cruelty aren’t hidden or stylised. They feel deeply, uncomfortably, cringe-inducingly real. The opening scene sets an audacious tone for the movie. It starts with distorted sounds and a blurry picture gradually coming into focus. You wonder what it is you are seeing, it appears unnatural and alien but when it starts coming together you realise that it is the complete opposite, it’s just not something you are used to seeing on a film screen.
Unfortunately, the verisimilitude isn’t constantly maintained throughout the film. While it is one of the strongest cases for the found footage genre I’ve seen in a while, it does have some of the old found footage problems. Motion sickness is a thing you will have to contend with depending on your constitution. While for many characters keeping the camera turned on throughout speaks to their compulsive need for control and dominance, there are still times when you just simply would not keep rolling. There are also moments when the film’s framing device backs itself into a corner, forcing the characters to explain what’s going on. These moments feel clumsily handled and take you out of the experience.
#STARVECROW is a deeply bleak and cynical look at how technology has degraded our morals and eroded our relationships. It is a frightening look at how young people use the ever present lenses in their lives to give themselves distance between them and their fellow human beings and use that to deny them their humanity and justify indulging their most depraved instincts. This group of people, and by extension this entire generation, are losing their grip on reality by turning their everyday lives into media. #STARVECROW is a disturbing and sometimes distressing trip through that cracked looking glass.
Dir: James Carver
Scr: James Carver, David Bark Jones
Starring: Jeremy Swift, Skye Lourie, David Bark-Jones
Prd: James Carver, David Bark-Jones
Music: Noel Watson
Run time: 85 mins
#STARVECROW is scheduled for release on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2016