Dir. Dom Rotheroe, UK, 2007, 85 mins
Review by Jean Lynch
Blair Witch has a lot to answer for; mostly a stern ticking off for the found-footage imitations it’s spawned that lack the subtlety and ingenuity of their predecessors, already having missed out on the initial shock factor of the subgenre. However, one British horror that went quietly under the radar, despite winning a Raindance British Independent Film Award, is Exhibit A – a genuinely disturbing, horrific but quite brilliant piece of lo-budget filmmaking that expertly makes full use of the medium.
It begins, as these films do, quite innocuously. The plot centers round Judith (Ashworth), the 14-year-old daughter of a Northern nuclear family, who has been given a video camera. And as new practitioners do, she points and shoots the things around her – mum, Sheila (Forrest) and dad, Andy (Cole) at the beach, hamming up ‘acting natural’, dodging brother Joe’s (Lee) pulling faces up close to the lens – all mundane, everyday activities which, as time goes by, most families will come to treasure as a unique record of themselves at that particular point in time. Everything we see on the screen in this film is footage as shot by the person holding the camera – and it looks like everyone’s amateurish home videos, complete with background breathing, obtrusive voiceovers, drop out, jump edits, camera shake, oblique angles when the camera gets knocked or is left running, and lots of self-consciousness naturalness from its subjects. It is ingenious in its deconstruction of amateur video shooting – and even more so in the way it is put back together. It is the ultimate in lo-budget production but it is of the highest order of creative professionalism. And it’s the familiarity that makes us relate to this film as we all have disregarded mini-dvs like this hidden away somewhere – we’ve all done it – while Judith’s voice, adding a diagetic narration to the events, confiding to camera, is intimate, making her our friend – we are not objective bystanders but compliant in the action.
And what we are witness to is devastating. From a happy, normal family, enjoying a day at the beach, full of the promise of a potential house move to the coast, the unraveling of their lives is insidious and, subject to the pressures of providing for the family and meeting their expectations, all too real. I won’t reveal the full horror of the film but the fact that the video camera is the ‘Exhibit A’ of the title should suggest where we’re heading. This is car crash viewing, Big Brother or The Family taken to the extreme. Unlike so many big studio productions, where goodies and baddies are two-dimensional and delineated as one or the other from the start, here there is no black-or-white; good people do bad things, misguided things – good people crack up and think what they’re doing is for the best. They are still somebody’s mother or son or colleague, still that person who they used to love and deserved love – they don’t suddenly pull off a mask, Scooby-Doo style, and reveal themselves, and there isn’t a cresecendo of music as the people around them realize the danger they’re in. It’s a confusing freefall of pressures, circumstances, and situations that get out of hand. This is a horror film but the worst horror of all is the sympathy it elicits for the perpetrator of it’s truly awful climax. This could be that nice family next door; even worse, it could be yours.
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