By Emily Atkinson-Dalton (Bath, UK)
Why Keep Watching was Hard to Watch
The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, REC, Cloverfield… the list if found footage movies just keeps growing. So when I came across the movie Keep Watching, although I was a little sceptical of the found footage method, I was ready for it to bring something new to the table. The story seemed new, the found footage element didn’t seem forced, and I had high hopes with Leigh Whannell as part of the cast (yes, I am a massive Saw fan!). However, what I felt during and after the film was… to say the least, underwhelming.
It begins hopeful, with a news story about a family being brutally murdered (always a good start), covering classic interviews from people who viewed a livestream of the event online, and concluding with a segment about a missing child. Then the story gets going; as we follow a family going about their life, showing aspects of their relationships through hidden cameras in their home (set up whilst they were on vacation). We have the daughter who might be pregnant and hates her stepmom, the young brother who… actually is one of the only likeable characters, the dad who seems a bit clueless and the doting stepmom who is (according to the daughter) “too young for him”. Along comes the uncle, and soon things start getting weird. Soon the dad and uncle get killed by an axe to the chest and a plastic bag around the head. The remaining daughter, son and stepmom then find a video of the daughter talking about how much she dislikes her stepmom (of course, set up by the killer) and the family are then thrust into an apparent “kill or be killed” situation. Hunted throughout their house, they find various weapons put in place by the killer, and a (less than exciting) game of cat and mouse ensues.
Now the storyline itself sounds rather intriguing. The element that enticed me particularly was the “kill or be killed” element, in which I assumed either the family having to decide who out of them had to die, or that they had to hunt down and kill the killer. Apparently it was the latter, but aside from a knife wedged in a door and a flashlight with a bow on it, it was the same as every other movie – “find something sharp/heavy and kill the killer”. Not quite the exciting game which I had been hoping for with specific rules and clever ruses (as mentioned previously; big Saw fan!).
There were a few points in the film which really highlighted to me why it was ultimately a let-down. First of all, the buildup was the same as every other horror movie; mundane family bickering that went on for too long, a few small scares, that sort of thing. Then when the real action happened it was all over too quickly. The dad copped it seconds after the first real tension-building moment, then the uncle kicked the bucket (though he was able to put up a fight), and the preceding threats were just underwhelming. There was a camera tied to a string, a knife stuck in a cupboard and some writing on the wall. The next disappointment came with the choices of the characters. Before the drama really began, I didn’t care for any of the characters (bar perhaps the brother DJ) which sets you up for a pretty underwhelming experience as it is. But when the step mum, son and daughter head downstairs to escape, that’s where the characters really start to go downhill.
The daughter sees some writing on the wall whilst walking downstairs behind her brother and stepmom which says “if you go down there, you will die”. Now, I get that she hates her stepmom, and she’s scared, but is she really going to let her baby brother probably die and just stand at the top of the stairs whilst they yell for her to come down? Apparently so. However, at least she had some comeuppance for her poor decision, as she gets nearly strangled when she ditches her family and runs up the stairs. After she escapes the killer (unfortunately) the remaining family members venture down to the basement (always a good idea in a horror movie) and what do they hear whilst hiding from the serial killer? Sirens! Policeman! Rescue! If it sounds too good to be true, well it pretty much always is. Especially when you find out you’ve been secretly filmed for god knows how long, by killers who clearly are not your bog standard Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-esque “man with big weapon runs at you” killer. It is all too obvious to an audience member that the police are just recordings, and to be frank, considering they have filmed the family for days, no one rang the police and the police recording is saying the same thing over and over, the family should have realised. Of course they do eventually, but far later than anyone watching. Then comes to big reveal… well, there isn’t really one.
The big reveal comes after they “tease” the daughter with the fact that her mother is dead and they know her secret; that she’s pregnant. It could have been creepy… but instead it seemed misplaced and not very intimidating. They don’t know her…. it’s pretty much grasping at cliché horror straws and, although it was a well-staged scene and is done by the killers for the livestream audience, still comes off as an obvious attempt to make the killer more interesting for the movie audience. Finally, we discover one of the killers is the girl whose family was slaughtered in the last stream. Predictable? Yes. Original? Not really. In a poor Saw 4 rip off, we find out that the girl is forced to participate in this killing game. With the original killers taking the boy and forcing his sister to play the game for the next family, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Will there be a Keep Watching 2? If there is, let’s hope it’s significantly better than the first.
Although I appreciate the attempt, and at certain points Keep Watching sparks an interest in the audience to know just how this whole monstrosity will end; it is ultimately a let-down. The buildup surrounding the film made it even more frustrating when none of the unique aspects which made me want to watch the film were really used. Poorly fleshed out characters, found footage camera-work and creepy killers being creepy for the sake of it are things we’ve all seen countless times before. In the end, it does become quite difficult to “Keep Watching”.