Originally published on Flickering Myth on 16/10/16.
Found-footage is a pretty cheap sub-genre, even by the usually low-rent standards of horror, but RWD really seems to take the biscuit when it comes to basic. Shot, edited, directed, written by and starring just two people, it’s very much an exercise in milking as much plot and bare-bones scares as possible from even the tiniest of budgets (seriously this thing must’ve cost pocket change).
This isn’t usually a bad thing; heavy-hitters Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch (both old and new) were made on very little and when it comes to effective horror, money isn’t necessarily a major factor. Sadly though, RWD feels like a major step back for this less-is-more approach, failing to ever really go anywhere with its admittedly intriguing central twist.
The set-up is eerily similar to POV-style chillers of the past so there’s not a lot new there, and as characters, Stuertz and Hartley seem to do little more than just play slightly irritating versions of their own fast-talking selves so it’s no surprise that the opening is a bit of a slog. Firing through almost every cliche in the found-footage bible within the first twenty minutes obviously does the duo absolutely no favours, meaning that when things do take a turn for the more interesting, you wouldn’t be blamed for completely missing out on what’s going on altogether. The lack of engagement is baffling.
Yet within half an hour we seem to arrive at a real game-changer of a twist, which to be fair to the pair, really works as a central concept. Spoiling it here seems unwise considering the ambiguity of the film’s marketing, but as Blair Witch-y as it may occasionally feel, it certainly pushes the film’s otherwise invisible narrative in a pretty neat direction. It’s a total shame then, that RWD doesn’t actually go anywhere from here, pacing back and forth and reducing itself to cheap, lazy humour instead of actually embracing the insanity of what the leads uncover.
It’s a twist that could’ve very easily put it in the same ball-park as the smarter side of Blumhouse or even, in some ways, Shane Carruth’s famous head-scratcher Primer, but Stuertz and Hartley seem instead, totally committed to the idea of making a seriously dumb and by-the-books found-footage movie. Within five minutes of it’s big reveal, RWD slides back into what is essentially a feature-length YouTube video.
The two poke around scary-looking buildings and a big wooded area with consumer-grade cameras, edit in a few sound-effects and the occasional confusing burst of non-diegetic music, and force a bunch of grainy static in at every opportunity possible. There’s really nothing to it. How this ever even found the festival and home media releases that it did is seriously alarming.
I guess in the long run it’s a one-up for indie filmmakers everywhere, particularly those interested in horror; with just a few half-decent cameras and a bunch of free sound-effects from the internet, you too can create a sub-par found-footage movie. Throw in a semi-interesting twist (even if you go nowhere with it) and some confused distributors might even get involved, then voila: you’re officially a ‘filmmaker’, living the dream.
On the whole RWD is just a pretty pointless waste of 80 minutes of your time. You might jump at the occasional sound effect and it certainly earns an extra point or so for a genuinely decent plot turn, but otherwise it’s the perfect embodiment of everything wrong with found-footage horror. Even as a Halloween late-nighter, this one’s a push.
RWD is available in the UK on DVD now.