Wednesday, 21 May 2014

The Collingswood Story


Despite the success of The Blair Witch Project in 1999 it wasn’t until around 2007 when the likes of REC, Paranormal Activity and Cloverfield came along that any film makers were able to really cash in on the found footage format. The main contributing factor being that, by this time high quality equipment was now so cheap and widespread that the concept of documenting every split second of your life was a feat achievable by a majority of society.
So it wasn’t as if the found footage clichés had been done to death by 2002, but still writer/director Michael Costanza found inspiration from the then still blossoming technological marvel of the internet. In the early days of their relationship, horror and the internet were never quite able to find a happy mediumThe pace of online progress was so rapid that a film would look dated before it had even been released. Constanza wisely decided to keep things simple and used video calling as a framing device for a fairly run of the mill ghost story. A theme to be re-visited over a decade later by Joe Swanberg in his ‘V/H/S’ contribution.
Having moved away from home to the eponymous Collingswood in order to study at university, Rebecca (Stephanie Deesis given a webcam with which she can keep in contact with her boyfriend Johnny (Johnny Burton). As a birthday present Johnny gives Rebecca a list of video phone numbers (romance is by no means dead) to use in order to check out the magical wonders of this new technology, one of which happens to be for an online psychic. Quite predictably things start taking a turn for the worse once the psychic is involved, and the dark past of Collingswood starts to reveal itself.
Although by no means a work of genius this film is definitely full of a strange kind of charm. Structurally the story plays out almost as the kind of scary story kids would tell each other on a sleepover. Mysterious characters in a creaky old house with a violent past, details of gruesome murders, the centuries old perpetrator who still walks the halls and his trademark Chelsea grin and fetish for eyeball removal. The tone is old school and fairly innocent and there is little here to offend many peoples sensibilities. For a certain generation the whole thing teems with nostalgia due to its experimental use of, what was at the time, an exciting new technology. Filmed way before skype and facetime existed, in an age when video calls were only just clawing their way out of the realms of science fiction, the concept really was quite ahead of its time.
Kept down to a skeleton cast of five people it does well to only stray from the webcam motive a few times, for a dream sequence and when Rebecca is filming on a regular video camera. This makes it less of a genuine ‘found’-footage concept akin to Cannibal Holocaust or The Last Broadcast, and is instead used more as a dramatic framing device we are just meant to accept as an audience. It does well to keep it short and pretty succinct and once the mystery starts to unfold it doesn’t linger on silence and mundane filler.
A-moral, exploitative fraudster -
Sally Morgan
The acting is nothing to get excited about and the script is character building by numbers but again this seems to add to its charm. It really starts to stumble with the inclusion of the psychic medium, there is nothing more clichéd than using a creepy psychic as a narrative device. Especially one as over wrought as this, but it does still manage to keep you on your toes. It plays around with the believability of the psychic’s abilities, just never quite enough to stop you from knowing exactly what is coming and who is right and wrong. It’s nice to see it try and throw you off the scent though.
This isn’t one for gore hunters and its subtlety and lightness of touch is only just saved by the short running time. The idea is commendably forward thinking, and is easily noted as a forerunner of the genre, but ultimately ends up being restricted by its own ambition.  

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