Monday, 1 February 2016


starvecrow is a film made up entirely of mobile phone videos and cctv footage, mostly the former. it tells the story of ben, a control-freak who films everything, and jess, his girlfriend who is just out of rehab. there is also a group of younger characters planning a party in the huge country house belonging to their parents. when ben finds out that jess is planning on going to this party and he isn’t invited he decides he’s going to crash it anyway, and this is where things start to get a bit dark.

of all the found footage films i’ve watched this past week, starvecrow has been the most unsettling and the only one to actually give me nightmares (i woke up convinced there was someone trying to get into the house). it doesn’t feel like a horror film in the traditional sense, but at the same time there are some typical horror elements – a ouija board, dead animals turning up all over the place and a particularly creepy home invasion scene, that last one being the part that really got to me. there are also some slasher movie elements but you can't really describe it as a slasher film. the fact that it's all filmed on mobile phones does add a reality to it that's missing from similar films, and the actors do an amazing job of maintaining this reality. in fact, i can't say enough about how great the actors are in this film. it never feels forced or overly performed and yet the actors have to get through some very tough scenes so it really is an impressive piece of work on that front.

the makers of starvecrow claim that this the world’s first ‘selfie’ movie and part of a pioneering new film movement called ‘hypereal’. while there is something unique and refreshing about the style of the film, i think that comes from the refusal to present narrative coherence rather than the way in which it is filmed. it’s fairly common in the found footage medium to mix footage from mobile phones with cctv as well as footage filmed on actual cameras. starvecrow even goes out of its way to justify the fact that everything we're seeing has been filmed on phone cameras, with ben insisting he has a disorder that means he has to film everything and then later stating that the younger characters film everything anyway. this repeated explanation of why we're seeing what we're seeing is a staple of the found footage format. what seems different here is that we are made to piece the story together ourselves which gives it more of a sense of a random collage of clips from which a story emerges. that said, we are led to follow a very deliberate route with voiceover from ben’s session with a therapist helping to fill in the blanks. in a way this addition of what is essentially a voiceover narration makes starvecrow more like a traditional film than any of the other found footage films i’ve seen recently.

on this point, ben has an interesting bitterness about the fact that he is seen as a freak for constantly filming and yet the kids get away with it. as mentioned above, he claims that the kids are filming each other all the time so when he steals their phones he has access to their whole lives. to prove his point, ben states that the kids will pay hundreds of pounds to go to a gig only to film it on their phones. while there is some truth in this, in my experience it’s the older people at gigs usually doing the filming. the kids are mostly down at the front enjoying the experience. if i’m honest, this whole theme of selfie-obsessed teens felt a bit like my dad watched a zoella video and decided all kids everywhere have decided to view life through the screen of their iphone. i’m older than the younger characters in this film, but it did feel like ben’s scorn was directed at youtubers like me to some extent. there’s a sort of older generation paranoia to this and i’m wary of making the mistake of thinking the voice of the main character is the voice of the filmmakers, but the paranoia seemed out of place coming from a character who can’t be much older than i am. and yes, i perhaps am taking this too personally, but this is a very confrontational film at times.

although it seems completely different on the surface, the film this reminded me of most was the houses of halloween. there’s an intimacy to the party scenes that reminded me of the five friends partying as they crossed the states. the difference is that i cared more about what happened to the people in that film. here, director james carver makes it incredibly difficult for us to care about anyone. the central theme of the film is that everyone is hiding their true selves and beneath the surface we all have secrets, most of which we record on our phones. this theme suits the medium really well because what we’re seeing feels so real and this makes it all the more shocking when we are shown the truth about the characters. it also makes starvecrow a rather nihilistic and, as i said, confrontational experience. it reminded me of lars von trier's more divisive works, like breaking the waves or the idiots, like it’s almost daring the audience to be offended.

i wasn’t offended, but i did find certain elements of the film problematic. there’s a moment where ben says something about how messed up these kids are when you scratch beneath the surface, and we do see them abuse each other in some quite shocking revelatory scenes. my issue is that it’s not all of them, as ben states, it’s just the men. the men are the ones delivering the abuse, there’s not one male character in the film who comes off okay. meanwhile, the women exist only to suffer. they are victims of abuse, whether it’s psychological or physical. i’m on board with the idea that people are messed up - unfriended did a fantastic job at portraying this in a way that was much less extreme and confrontational and yet just as shocking. what i’m not comfortable with is the idea that all men are abusers and all women are victims and that certainly appears to be the case in the world this film shows us.

despite some of the problems i had with the film, starvecrow is as fascinating as it is challenging. there is a complexity and ambition to this project that demands admiration and while i’m not that comfortable with some of the ideas presented on screen it is refreshing to see a film that has such an intentionally antagonistic relationship with its audience. in addition, for the horror fans there are some truly unsettling scenes here that will really get under your skin. i would say it’s definitely a film worth seeing, just be away that it’s occasionally a bumpy ride.

the found footage blogathon will run throughout february in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

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