Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Last Broadcast (1998)

There are films that are released to the public that are obviously inspired by other films. There are some that are intentionally done that way and there are some that are based on films that sometimes are unseen or had a limited viewing audience. In 1999, the phenomenon known as The Blair Witch Project was unleashed onto a public that was already hungry for the truth about a legend that was started over the Internet months prior. As we all know, the film went on to become one of the top grossing independent films of all time and became a staple in American pop culture. Almost two years prior, a film was released that was it's own milestone in cinema history: The first film shot and broadcasted in theaters by means of one hundred digital medium. The buzz on the film was overwhelming and people flocked to see something that was so different from anything they'd ever seen. And I know this blog is devoted to films out of the 70's and 80's, but every once in a while, I've got to make known some of the more obscure films that are out there. And this is one of them.

The film tells the story of two public access cable figures and hosts of their own show Fact or Fiction, told in flashback, by a documentary filmmaker. With their once popular show plummeting in ratings, the show decides to rely on its viewers for ideas. With the assistance of the new budding technology known as IRC (Internet Relay Chat), a suggestion comes through to do a show on the myth of the Jersey devil, an urban legend about a monster living in the Pine Barrens of that area. The two hosts hire a sound man and a young local with a troubled past, obsessed with magic, and claiming to possess 'psychic abilities'. When the budding magician has a psychic 'revelation', and the suggested date of the when the shoot should take place mysteriously appears on his arm, the crew go out into the cold woods in hopes to make the episode that would put them on the map again. But when three of the four are brutally murdered, James, the 'psychic' and only survivor, is tried for their murders and sent to prison. But who really committed the murders? Or was it something unexplainable, something more sinister?

When I first heard about this film, I did some research and read some reviews by people who had seen it and I was impressed by what I read. So when I dove into this film headfirst - thanks to a wrongly-placed Region 2 DVD at Rasputins that my computer was able to play, luckily - I was expecting this film to terrify me out of my wits. The narration, done by the filmmaker himself, though it was well-paced, drew the story out more than it should have been. The pivotal point in the film is when parts of the destroyed "lost footage" is recovered and is given to a media specialist to piece together and announces that the final piece of the puzzle is about to be revealed, via press conference. Everything is summed up in the closing act, which, to me, didn't pack the punch that I thought it would. Sure, the twist ending was something I didn't expect, but it didn't leave its mark the way it should have. After all the reviews I'd read about what a frightening film this is and after the DVD sleeve boasted, "Incredibly creepy. Don't see it alone", I sorrily - and quickly - had to beg to differ. The film was more talk and story than action and we didn't get to see any of the murders committed on camera, rather quick traces of them, the way I'd imaged they'd be portrayed. There was no real terror in the film itself, which was something it really did lack seeing the nature of the murders and the legend they were researching. The character development was very limited, so there was no feeling of horror when the murders take place and I didn't even feel anything when it was all revealed who the real murderer was and that an innocent man was rotting away in prison.

My question though: When the real murderer shows his face and we discover who really sent the IRC message to the group giving the idea to do the documentary on the devil, one has to ask: So with everything now out in the open and unraveled at the film's close, shouldn't the real killer have been tried for the murders instead? Why wasn't he taken into custody and James set free? There are a lot of questions at the end of the film, which leaves things open for disucssion, which in a way, was good as it probed the mind but with that said, this film shouldn't be labeled as a actual standard horror film. It should have been labeled more as a psudo-documentary or a murder mystery. The film is worth a look, but only if you're into these 'reality' type of movies or like the idea of urban legends being explored. I was disappointed in this film mainly because I expected it to blow Blair Witch right out of the water. As a pseudo-documentary, it holds up well. The style in which the film was made was impressively innovative and it stands out in its own right and still marks as the only film broadcasted to theaters by means of satellite. As a horror film, it fails. Though the DVD has found its way into my collection, I don't think I'll have the urge to see it again. And I know that this review is short but there's not much to really say about the film, honestly. Watch The Blair Witch Project instead.

The Last Broadcast: that's what it should have been. Here's the trailer, but please note it's much better than the film itself. I guess it's the narrator's Gunther-like voice (yes, Gunther from Friends) that gets to me.