Wednesday, 9 December 2015



A review screener arrives through the post. Excited at the possibility of seeing a new movie several weeks before the public, you open the envelope and skim through the press release, and that's when you realise with a jolt that the plot synopsis starts with the words "A documentary filmmaker...." Yes, if it's Tuesday it must be found-footage. So, later that evening, you feed the DVD warily into your player and discover that if there's one thing worse than yet another found-footage horror movie, it's a found-footage horror movie in which nothing much happens for the first hour. Sure, it's from Australia, which makes a welcome change from drab backwoods America, and there are a couple of nice misty landscapes in the early stages, but that's absolutely nowhere near enough to distinguish Apocalyptic from a hundred others.

Documentary filmmaker Jodie and cameraman Kevin head off into the Australian wilderness to locate and film an isolated religious commune, after having their interest piqued by the comments of a recovering drug addict at an AA meeting (it's never explained why these documentarians are making a film about the previously unheard-of activities of Alcoholics Anonymous) who subsequently disappears. Investigating, Jodie and Kevin make contact with the commune; they're a self-sufficient, seemingly happy gathering of women and young girls led by the permanently smiling Michael: everything's friendly and open to start with, but things take a sinister turn when it becomes clear that Michael, significantly surnamed Godson, is preparing his flock for the imminent apocalypse as prophesied to him alone....

All the tropes are trotted out yet again in Apocalyptic: the interviews with local townsfolk, the motion sickness camerawork (which makes you wonder whether these people really are supposed to be professional documentarians with their terrible visual sense), the endless acres of tedious prattle that had no real business being filmed, let alone being left in the finished edit, the POV shots of running through the woods in blind panic. And of course the gaping chasms of logic. Not just the question of who edited all this footage together and why (and indeed when), nor why that editor has left all the dullest bits in, but crucially how we're supposed to be seeing it in the first place. Like the wretched Apollo 18, the film's ending negates the film's existence: if the material is lost or destroyed or (spoiler alert) consumed in the apocalypse, how come I'm sitting here watching it? If it had been made as a "proper film" with an invisible non-narrative camera these issues would never have occurred (see 2007's Believers, a "proper film" that's actually directed by The Blair Witch Project's Daniel Myrick).

Most of Apocalyptic is deathly dull until it turns all Reverend Jim Jones in the last third (Jones is actually referenced in the dialogue), cueing all the first-person shrieking and running around in the dark. There's really no point in moaning yet again about the ugly visual aesthetic, beyond stating yet again that there's really no difference in a film that's meticulously crafted to look technically shoddy and a film that simply IS technically shoddy. You just end up wondering whether the deliberate pretend-incompetence of shaky-cam pseudo-verite is preferable to the cheerful genuine incompetence of a Jess Franco or an Al Adamson. I don't think it is. It's worth noting that of the first three reviews on the film's IMDb page, one of them is placed there by the production company.


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