Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Black Water Vampire – review

Director: Evan Tramel

Release date: 2014

Contains spoilers

Found footage films are still rather popular but they do tend to be a love them or hate them form of the horror genre. There can be a level of crow-baring the reason for use of the camera within a given film and there is a deal of false exposition that sometimes gets thrust in.

By that introduction you can tell that this is a found footage film and I’ll get to some of the pros and cons of that later in the review. However I’ll say at this conjecture that if you like that genre of films you may well enjoy this and, with an element of suspending belief, I rather enjoyed what I saw.

bite on Millicent
The film begins with police shot footage from early 2003, having found the body of Millicent Barnam (Emma Anderson) who had vanished two weeks before. She was found at Black Water Creek, an area many miles from the nearest town, Fawnskin. Her clothes had mainly been torn away, there were no footprints leading to her, there was a bite pattern in her neck, a symbol carved in her leg and a distinct lack of blood.

Danielle Lozeau as Danielle Mason
Ten years on and Danielle Mason (Danielle Lozeau) is leading a documentary crew to look into the murders. It transpires that there had been a similar abduction/murder every ten years since 1972. After the 2002 murder police arrested local man Raymond Banks (Bill Oberst Jr., Death Valley) and, having questioned him for 16 hours straight with no attorney in order to get a confession, he was convicted with no physical evidence and now sits on death row. Danielle believes him innocent.

the crew
Travelling with her are producer Andrea (Andrea Monier), who has worked on a couple of documentaries with Danielle before. On sound is their friend Robin (Robin Steffen), who comes across as quite snarky and not on board with hiking three days to get footage of the creek. They have hired a cameraman Anthony (Anthony Fanelli) who is unknown to the group. Before they go to the creek they head to Fawnskin to interview people connected with the case and also to the prison to interview Banks.

symbol in Millicent's leg
En route we begin to see the weirdness of the town. We have already seen interview footage including a man talking about a “rat man” creature and hunters suggest that there is something in the woods. It is revealed that the main road is known as Bloodsucker highway because legend mentions vampires in the woods – much to Robin’s chagrin. As Anthony is driving at night, towards Fawnskin, he swerves because something (he doesn’t know what) shot out across the road. They burst a tire and can hear strange animal noises they don’t recognise. Having tried to flag a car for help the driver stops a distance from them and then tries to run them down.

old newspaper cutting
They arrive late at the property they have rented and the landlady seems… odd. After we discover that Danielle has made a virginity pledge (is this important – we’ll discuss that soon), we see odd behaviour from the landlady who seems to be standing out in the road staring at the house. Something that struck me, as the crew interview family and friends of the murder victims, is the ease for which they believe a man might be the killer (despite low evidence) and the passion for vengeance (as opposed to justice). The film captures this well.

Bill Oberst Jr as Banks
When they meet Banks we have to suspend belief as I don’t believe that Bill Oberst Jr looked nearly old enough to be the killer of all four women (in reality he’d have been roughly 48 when the film was shot and the story staged the first murder was 40 years before). However that thought is lost with a performance that summoned thoughts of a man suffering paranoid delusions, and yet also had knowledge such as the design of the sign carved on the last victims leg (which he draws in blood from his own bitten fingers).

first view
I don’t want to spoil too much. The sign is painted on his abandoned cabin and on trees, someone even paints it on the crew’s tent during the night (after hiking a day). There is a vampire out there, almost manbat like it seems to be another species preying on people in the woods and we see it first of all at night, hanging in the trees, and also in daylight. What it wants and what relationship the town has to it is largely down to viewer conjecture and this is both a pro and a con of the film. Indeed the lore is limited (and that which we do get is too much of a spoiler to relay here).

a daylight encounter
You see, because it is a found footage film there is little in the way of actual exposition. Let us look at Danielle’s virginity. I assume it to be important – due to it being mentioned – but as no character actually explains whether it is important (or why) it is entirely my own conjecture. The fact that the filmmakers leave much exposition out is quite right as, being found footage, anything else would seem forced so and they leave a trail of breadcrumbs for us and so is much more pro than con.

strange signs
The film is quiet derivative of the Blair Witch Project (the granddaddy of found footage films) – lost in the woods, strange signs, etc but was much more cohesive – thanks in large part to the leads – than the BWP, a film I believe to be overhyped and quiet poor, to be honest. The single-minded pursuit of the story despite the events (by Danielle) was an aspect that I just had to suspend belief with, but did find I was able to. The last scene (which I won’t spoil) did make me wonder how the footage ever “was found” but, again, as the film is silent we have to take it on trust.

night vision attack
I have said before that I am not a huge fan of found footage films and this remains true. However I found myself caught up in the Black Water Vampire and I put this entirely down to the trail of breadcrumbs left by the scriptwriter (Jesse Baget) and the natural feel of the main actors. As a con, the use of camera at times seemed a little forced, but that is always going to be the case with this style of film (even the more magnificent examples such as the Rec series had their clunky moments in this regard). But if a film keeps you truly interested then that is certainly a big plus. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


swish said...

Just a rat-like vampire? No females turned? Disappointing. I kinda dig the concept.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Less rat more bat - the comment on a rat was a vox-pop type interview.

As for the turning of people, well I haven't spoilt what goes on - though they are a separate species, which precludes actual turning into them...

Give it a go, Swish, it is worth a watch

give it a go, Swish, it is worth a watch

Unknown said...
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Taliesin_ttlg said...

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Unknown said...

Why are they using a warewolf symbol. When it is a vampire.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

the filmmakers have little to no control over cover images to be fair... to be even more fair, traditionally here was little to no difference between vampires and werewolves in Slavic mythology (where the genre stems from) and, indeed, the description of Dracula in Bram Stoker's original novel (arguably the main source of the vampire in modern media) was lifted from Sabine Baring-Gould's the book of werewolves.

Of course the modern media conceit has not only seperated them, but made them mortal enemies and so your comment is more than valid Littlejohn - I suspect the answer is "ad (wo)men"