DWELLERS – review    

Found Footage Review

           If you have read any of my recent reviews of found footage films, you’ll see that I do my level best to be as fair as possible to these films Despite what some critics and film wonks may have you believe, every movie that comes out or came out in the past fifteen/twenty years is not a found footage film.

Shock, I know.

The thing is that if you are sick of a genre or subgenre or it seems like every other movie coming out is exactly the thing you hate. Believe me, I have been there. You hear it a lot regarding comic book movies – UGH, every movie is that. Except it’s not. It just seems that way.

So no, every movie is not a found footage movie.

That doesn’t mean there are not a LOT of them out there.

It’s an easy way to get into filmmaking, to be honest.

If you think about it all you need is a camera, and just one actor that can improv, and a rough idea and you’re off. The rest you can get software to work on.

You can literally do a one person show as a found footage film and it can work.

If the actor is believable, and the story is compelling, it can work.

JUST STICK TO THE RULES OF FOUND FOOTAGE!

That’s why horror can be such an attractive genre for young filmmakers – there’s a hunger for horror films, and it doesn’t necessarily entail a lot of heavy lifting.

A comedy is about timing and gags and jokes, and it really depends solely on the actor/s to pull it off.
A drama isn’t as taxing but takes a compelling story and an actor that can engage you deeply.

On and on and on.

Me, I love found footage so while I admit that the direct to video virtual shelves are overflowing with the subgenre it doesn’t mean that the movie houses are full of these things. Being that I love these things though, I try to be as forgiving as is reasonable. Most folks making them, as I said, are newer filmmakers and are learning the ropes so they deserve a little more lenience.

It doesn’t mean you shrug off the big mistakes though.

Enter DWELLERS, a film that calls itself found footage yet breaks that promise in the first few moments as they offer you a set up that switch between three camera angles. You could get away with it if you explained WHY there were three static cameras but, bro, this is an interrogation in a police station, and it doesn’t make sense.

WORSE is that by the end you are told that the footage is supposed to be destroyed and we are not given any reason to believe that that doesn’t happen so…

WHA?

What even is this mess?

Welcome to DWELLERS.

           DWELLERS is the story of a documentary crew scurrying to get their film finished. The doc is intended to focus on the disappearing homeless people of the Canton, OH area. Funded by rock icon Dave Ellefson (whose name is dropped as if it is some sort of drinking game – though he did really produce DWELLERS), the director has squandered his budget and the six months he had to shoot the film and is now at a point where he’s received the ultimatum of – get us the movie in two days or we’ll sue you and have someone else make the film. Out of sheer desperation the director heads to a friend’s place who is set to help him with the film but doesn’t yet realize the timeline they are on. They are joined by another man and the three of them set out under the false pretense that there is money behind their shoot – not anymore, suckers! – to film their documentary. They manage to track down a few homeless people and begin to interview them to find out more about the people and possibly more about what is happening to the missing folks. The crew finds out that many of the homeless have been moving underground but that something else was down there with them. Something hungry. The director decides to follow the story where it leads, having no other choice, so the trio heads to the old rail tunnels under the city in the hopes of finding some answers and getting some good footage for the documentary. What they don’t yet realize is that the story about something else being down there as well was true, but they’ll find that out for themselves soon enough.

           This is as stripped down as you can get when it comes to realizing the story they are trying to tell. The homeless people are clearly friends – which is fine, though a little cringey since you are having people portraying mental illness and homelessness but, here we are – and any moments of real action are given the shaky cam and quick cut treatment. The latter is far more frustrating in that a moment will begin and then suddenly the film has jumped ahead a moment or two and the actors are left telling you what happened.

UGH!

I admit that I really do admire folks that have no real budget just saying – to heck with it, we’re doing this – and finding a way to work around things. That’s great because to me that’s the heart of filmmaking and really any art – you just work with what you have. I love that. The problem though is that you must be fair to your audience. They clearly didn’t have a budget for monsters here, that’s fine, what they showed worked well and they leaned into the sound, and it worked wonderfully. Truly, the use of sound and the way the monster/s could mimic things was fantastic but wasn’t given enough rope to really lead very far.

The film itself plays out well enough but has a jarring structure where you cut back and forth between an interrogation and the action and with the interrogation mixing three cameras into the film. The acting is decent, though, again, we aren’t given enough. You can tell that the director is super shady, and you get tastes of it, but it feels like that was something to mine earlier in the film. This is one of those films too where it’s like the characters forget they are living in a horror film because folks sorta get over things real fast. Someone killed. AH. A little later, oh, well, let’s bicker. It’s crazy. But then there feels like things like that got little though, like the idea of time in the darkness. We hear over and over how people were lost for days or some such, and I can sorta buy it, but I think people forget that you can’t survive long without water and with no food and living in fear as they are I am not sure you’d last long.

           There is a great idea here. It reminds me a little of THE TUNNEL, or ABSENTIA, or even C.H.U.D. but it doesn’t feel necessarily derivative. There’s a neat idea here that just isn’t plumbed enough or given enough time to breath. The thing is that they could have frontloaded the film with backstories and more interactions with the homeless or people who may know what’s going on. Then when you are in the underground it all feels scarier, and you don’t necessarily have to be down there as long.

The biggest bummer of the film is that this is given such a cringey, silly ending that it made sorta want to laugh, as they try to put a Big Brother sort of spin on the proceedings without earning it.

           I don’t mean to pile on at all, and, as always, I admire them for getting the film done and think it’s great that Ellefson has a film company that’s working with filmmakers. Awesome! There’s an interesting story in DWELLERS that just wasn’t given enough time or thought so that we’re left with a really boring, shrug-worthy film that doesn’t have much in the way of logic and doesn’t have the biggest interest in sticking with the fact that this was supposed to be a found footage film.


Bleh.

1 out of 5

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