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Stream to Scream: “MOCKINGBIRD”

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When watching a film like MOCKINGBIRD, which essentially plays as a found footage home invasion film constructed like a puzzlebox, a question arises in the head of the viewer: if a film commits so many cinematic crimes yet remains effortlessly gripping, can one consider it good? Make no mistake, even the most predictable moments of MOCKINGBIRD were tense, scary and even a bit unsettling. But for every moment that highlights the glorious aspects of using a found footage perspective, there is an equal moment of logical flaw, inconsistency and an overall problematic narrative to cancel it out. It’s an interesting dynamic, even if for the wrong reasons, and it almost feels as if MOCKINGBIRD is too tied to minimalism for its own good, even though the minimalism is what makes the film terrifying.

MOCKINGBIRD follows a group of people who are separately given three cameras, first with vague instructions which later become horrifyingly clear: keep filming, don’t call anyone and play the game, or else. For one man, the instructions include a series of demeaning public stunts while caked in clown make-up, leading him eventually to an ominous party-esque scenario. For a husband and wife, their game is much more graphic, including threats to their children as well as the murder of their pet cat. And for one woman, the abuse is much more straightforward and taunting, including a mannequin and several mysterious packages.

On one hand, MOCKINGBIRD is completely dread-inducing, with Bryan Bertino keeping the audience on their toes while subjecting us to some creepy use of known off-putting imagery. In fact, by restricting the perspective to that of the first person point-of-view, the voyeuristic quality of the film works in a much more perverse and disturbing way. And the multiple point-of-views is a nice touch for the story being told, allowing no singular storyline to lag or falter under the pressure of a feature length narrative.

Mockingbird

That said, MOCKINGBIRD also puts a unrelenting spotlight on many things that don’t work in the found footage subgenre. First, the main issue comes in the form of the characters; while the “clown” character is likely the best fleshed-out of the bunch, there is not enough learned about these characters to justify their decisions or actions as reasonable or true to their personality, and once the horror starts, any sense of development outside of general “panic” or blind ignorance is thrown out the window. Second, there are many logical restraints that pop up throughout MOCKINGBIRD, whether it be the willful incorporation of the gun into the second storyline or the fact that none of them would even attempt to call the police, especially as the “videos” showed that they could be killed for even following the rules. And then there’s the ending, which warrants a bigger discussion than we can provide here…

If anything, MOCKINGBIRD shows that director Bryan Bertino knows how to make a scary movie, even if he’s more proficient at the former element than the latter. There are many ideas at play in MOCKINGBIRD that aren’t quite paid off, even if they serve a purpose in creating a specific atmosphere of unease. In fact, the film almost feels as if it’s a trilogy of found-footage films condensed into a singular vision, with the connective tissue between the films being explicitly put together in the final act rather than over the course of three specific journeys.

Nevertheless, in terms of purely creepy entertainment, MOCKINGBIRD works against all odds, with Bertino fitting his proven aesthetics into the limited eye and budget of a found footage film. The film rarely feels like a personal endeavor, and yet there’s not a moment of MOCKINGBIRD that feels like Bertino is underselling the narrative or intentionally ignoring the film’s many flaws. Instead, MOCKINGBIRD feels like Bertino making the best of an inherently problematic situation, and while it doesn’t always work or make sense, it certainly makes for an effectively immersive found footage fright flick.

MOCKINGBIRD is now streaming on Netflix Instant.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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