THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES
(US - 2014)
You'd assume this must be a terrible movie, but the end result is quite surprising. It's unfortunate that the found-footage genre has played itself into overexposed irrelevance, because THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES is one of the best of its kind. There's no jump scares to be had and the gore is minimal, but its violence and intensity are such that it's quite dark, disturbing, and sometimes difficult to watch. It's hard telling if that's why MGM got skittish about releasing it, but the closest comparison I can draw to illustrate just how utterly real and horrifying this film can be is the sad and heartbreaking Australian found-footage outing LAKE MUNGO. Set up as a faux talking-head documentary, THE POUGHKEEPSIE TAPES chronicles the exploits of the east coast serial killer The Water Street Butcher, tracing his murders back to 1991 via a vast collection of homemade snuff videos found in his house in 1996. The madness begins with the abduction and murder of a little girl right from her front yard, escalates to a couple being kidnapped on their way home to Poughkeepsie from Pittsburgh, and soon, he's very intricately crafting the murder sites to deliberately mislead the investigators and misdirect the profilers when the FBI is called in. To throw them off even more, he changes his M.O. and kidnaps 19-year-old Cheryl Dempsey (Stacy Chbosky), holding her captive as a sex-and-torture slave in his basement. He even shows up at Cheryl's house and films himself talking to her mother, laughing and taunting her ("If there's anything I can do...") before running away once the mom realizes she's looking right at the man who kidnapped her daughter. The murders go on, with the killer deliberately leaving DNA behind as if he's trying to get captured, and that's when things take an unexpected and even more horrific turn, with Dowdle even working in 9/11 in a plausible, non-exploitative fashion.
(US - 2017)
There's potential for some insightful, layered commentary here, but ARMED RESPONSE goes the generic route, offering a bunch of cliched military hardasses in lieu of characters or interesting ideas. The whole idea behind "The Temple" is half-baked and never really clearly expressed, and it only gets remotely interesting when Gabriel has to reboot the system and The Temple slowly regains its power, with its cinder block walls coming to life and reaching out to unlucky victims, yanking their arms out of their sockets. That kind of craziness would've been helpful in the 85 minutes up to that point, but director John Stockwell, a former actor (CHRISTINE, MY SCIENCE PROJECT, TOP GUN) who made some successful movies (CRAZY/BEAUTIFUL, BLUE CRUSH, INTO THE BLUE) before his post-2011 slide into the world of VOD/DTV (CAT RUN, IN THE BLOOD, KICKBOXER: VENGEANCE) just seems to be coasting through, and the end result looks like an updated and slightly higher-end version of something Roger Corman's Concorde would've released in 1989. Snipes and Heche are the big names here, and while they're in the whole movie and don't pull any Bruce Willis or Steven Seagal phone-ins, they're definitely sidelined in favor of the bland Annable. The film was produced by WWE Studios (hence, Rollins' involvement) and upstart Erebus Pictures, a production company formed by none other than KISS icon and NEVER TOO YOUNG TO DIE villain Gene Simmons, who also briefly appears in either a bald cap or sans wig (looking a lot like late-career Michael Ansara) in a flashback as a suspected terrorist. Simmons is also all over the accompanying making-of featurette, and if you watch that beforehand, you might think that he's the star of the movie. (R, 94 mins)
OPEN WATER 3: CAGE DIVE
(Australia - 2017)
47 METERS DOWN, CAGE DIVE opens with the remains of a digital video camera found on the ocean floor, its memory card still intact. Faster than you can say "I wonder who the real sharks are," we're watching shaky, handheld footage of Americans--siblings Jeff (Joel Hogan) and Josh (Josh Potthoff), and Jeff's girlfriend Megan (Megan Peta Hill)--traveling to Australia to visit Jeff and Josh's Sydney-born cousin (Pete Valley) before heading off to a cage dive, digital camera in tow since Jeff wants to get them all on a daredevil reality show. They head out on a group excursion, and while the three of them are in the cage, a freak tidal wave appears out of nowhere, capsizes the boat, and the few survivors who weren't killed in the impact are soon eaten by great white sharks until only Jeff, Josh, and Megan remain, treading water. Of course Jeff never stops filming, even as hypothermia and delirium set in, and writer/director Gerald Rascionato (also credited with producing, photographing, editing, and casting) also makes time for turgid melodrama with Jeff finding out what the audience already knows from his camera being left on earlier: Megan is cheating on him with Josh, which really puts a damper on his plans to propose to her on the trip. OPEN WATER 3: CAGE DIVE has some convincing shark action, but relies too heavily on characters doing stupid things (luck sends a lifeboat drifting their way, so of course Megan sets it ablaze when she freaks out and mishandles a flare) to the point where you'll eventually start rooting for the sharks, in which case, you'll get a happy ending. (R, 81 mins)