Christian Robshaw takes a look at this first-person horror…
The first-person perspective, so prominently used in literature as well as, lately, in videogames, has barely troubled the screen: there’s Gaspar Noé’s bizarre Enter the Void, there’s the 2012 remake of Maniac, and the naïve Raymond Chandler adaptation Lady in the Lake plus, on the small screen, Britcom Peep Show. This movie bills itself as the first first-person horror, which it gets away with solely because the aforementioned Maniac did use a couple of third-person establishing shots, which this film does not. If you want to get really pedantic, then you might point out that this film has opening and closing credits which are not, presumably, some sort of dream its protagonist is having. Maybe we’ll live to see yet another world’s first first-person horror movie, but on the evidence of this one, I rather hope not.
Natalie (Krista Dzialoszynski) is back home from college for the summer, along with her friends Katie (Nikki Pierce) and Miles (Keenan Camp), and it’s the 4th of July, which means weed, beer, fireworks, a somewhat demented would-be Hugh Hefner figure played with a strange, lazy relish by newcomer Eric Wood (they’re all newcomers), and wouldn’t you know it, an implacable masked maniac. During the heady days of the first wave of slashers, they managed to chuck around blood and guts on every holiday except, apparently, this one, despite managing to do-over Christmas and Thanksgiving in several separate movies.
So what’s Natalie to do? Not call the police, apparently, though she makes the odd half-hearted threat to. Instead, after a dreadfully slow half-hour in which the only interest comes from the chemistry between Katie and Miles – both of whom soon disappear from the narrative entirely – she decides to just run, and run, and trip, and slip, and fall, over and over. You never see Krista Dzialoszynski’s face in the picture, but you spend so much time staring at her legs and ugly green sneakers you could pick them out of a police line-up. But despite her problems with balance, she manages to survive long enough, the plucky thing, to keep up a solid hour of chase, which is good for her and bad for the movie. Of course, we know she can’t die because the film’s in first-person, and since it isn’t a short, it means we have to get about eighty minutes in before we start to believe she could actually be in peril. There’s little to fear from the derivative killer, whose obvious template is the slasher archetype, but who also draws on the baddies of home-invasions such as The Purge or The Strangers as well as briefly, and unprofitably, toying with the Leatherface thing. About all that really works here in horror terms is the screechy score, which could have been put to use in a better movie – who’s supposed to be hearing it here, anyway? Is Natalie crazier than she seems?
Well, maybe that score’s just a device, to represent the feelings of fear that film, just pictures and sound, can’t quite give us. But then if you’re accepting film can’t truly represent first-person as an experience, you’re undoing your own premise. While true first-person perspective is rare, the functionally similar found-footage is all too common. If you haven’t read the press release for this one, it’ll probably be a while before you twig it isn’t a found-footage. That genre, however, makes a virtue, though generally a slight one, of its disorienting quality. The intent of first-person is to put you inside the head of the protagonist, but being someone feels nothing like merely looking through their eyes – Being John Malkovich made a point of this. It’s the reason the FPS game generally gives the player so much supplementary information, because the medium can’t supply the sense of touch or, more importantly, proprioception or, most importantly of all, thoughts and memories. Fiction has no problem at all dealing with thoughts and memories, and spends a lot more time on those than it does on detailing what the character is simply seeing. If we want to learn about a character, we need subjectivity, and the first-person perspective in film can only ever supply objectivity; for that reason, it will never be anything more than a gimmick, and a poor one at that.
You Are Not Alone arrives on DVD today (22nd February), will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!