The Films of Bryan Bertino
The Strangers (May 29/08)
While there's little doubt that writer/director Bryan Bertino deserves some credit for attempting to evoke an old-school horror vibe - ie this is a leaps-and-bounds improvement over what generally passes for a contemporary scary movie - The Strangers has been saddled with an increasingly uneven sensibility that ultimately dulls the movie's overall impact. The degree to which Bertino takes his time in getting things going surely plays a substantial role in the film's mild success, however, with virtually the entire opening half hour devoted to the low-key exploits of feuding central couple James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler). Of course, there reaches a point at which the pair find themselves stalked by a trio of masked maniacs and the movie subsequently revolves around James and Kristen's cat-and-mouse efforts at avoiding their pursuers' increasingly sinister advances. And while some of these sequences are admittedly quite tense, there are just as many moments that are prolonged well past the point of tolerance (ie there's a long stretch in which we tediously follow Tyler's character as she hobbles around looking for a place to hide). Bertino's reliance on excessively shaky camerawork inevitably becomes more of an annoyance than anything else, and it's impossible to deny that the inclusion of an eye-rollingly needless shock ending leaves the proceedings with an exceedingly bad aftertaste. Still, Speedman and Tyler acquit themselves nicely and it's certainly difficult to recall a more suspenseful horror effort as of late - yet, given the strength of the film's promotional materials, one can't help but feel a twinge of disappointment at the the final product's relentlessly erratic nature.
Set in 1995, Mockingbird follows several characters as they receive bulky video cameras as part of a "contest" and are subsequently horrified to discover that they're actually part of a game with deadly consequences. Writer/director Bryan Bertino admittedly does a fantastic job of immediately capturing the viewer's interest, as Mockingbird opens with a striking sequence involving, apparently, the last person to play the aforementioned game. From there, the movie segues into a midsection that feels like a fairly standard found-footage thriller - replete with generic, forgettable characters and long stretches in which nothing terribly interesting occurs. It's worth noting, however, that Bertino effectively manages to cultivate an atmosphere of moderate suspense, as the narrative boasts a handful of genuinely tense moments that manage, for a while, to compensate for the less-than-compelling elements on display (eg everything involving Barak Hardley's grating "clown" character). There's little doubt, though, that the unusual scenario is perhaps a little too outrageous to elicit any genuine frights, and the movie does, perhaps inevitably, begin to palpably run out of steam as it passes the one-hour mark - with the ludicrous and flat-out eye-rolling conclusion ensuring that Mockingbird ends on as underwhelming a note as one could envision. It's a shame, to be sure, as the movie's setup is dripping with promise and Bertino mostly avoids falling into many of the amateurish traps associated with the found-footage genre, and yet it's ultimately impossible to overlook the nonsensical manner in which the whole thing finishes.