By: C. Rachel Katz
Directed by Jed Brian
Starring Jed Brian, Gavin Groves, Griffen Groves, Tyler Landers
I love found footage movies, the good and the bad. The narrow field of vision and singular point-of-view, the stream-of-consciousness storytelling, the low-fi look and feel; it’s filmmaking distilled down to its purest form, and for horror that largely means people go to a place and get murdered. Unlisted Owner doesn’t challenge this formula, but it does something not many found footage genre films attempt: multiple POVs.
Jed has a new video camera which he uses to film everything. On this day, he and his buddies are packing the truck to go camping when they find out about the murders which opened the film. They decided to swing by the house to rubberneck, and while doing so, they learn about even more murders from fifteen years ago. That night, while awaiting the arrival of sluts at the campsite, the group makes the bold decision to return to the murder house, this time with the intention of breaking in. While inside, their numbers dwindle until, inevitably, Jed films his own death.
Unlisted Owner falls victim to the all-too-common trope of exaggerated inter-personal conflict. Instead of finding conflict in situations, writer-director Jed Brian roots most of the film’s conflict in his characters. Why are these people friends? I have to assume these relationships are high school hold-overs, acquaintances clinging to friendships that served them well during their teen years, but they haven’t aged in step with the people themselves. Gavin and Tyler’s constant teasing of Jed crosses the line from joshing to abuse; if he had the good sense to ditch these jerks, he would have survived the film. In fact, the film, which largely unfolds before Jed’s camera, wouldn’t exist at all. In the world of the film, Gavin and Tyler would still die, but we’d be spared the ordeal of having to watch. Not the deaths, which happen off-camera, but the run-up—the whole sad story of a guy with jerks for friends who lacks a basic sense of self-preservation. High school social politics writ large on the small screen.
Thing is, Unlisted Owner is about as introspective as its characters. The film isn’t about growing out of high school friendships. It’s about a group of early twenty-somethings who make a series of bad decisions that end up getting them killed. It’s about a murder house. It’s about canonized horror rhetoric. It’s about not damaging the shooting location. Unlisted Owner is a to-do list for the freshman horror filmmaker: opening kill? check; contrived logic to get characters to the murder scene? check; even more contrived logic to keep them there? double check. It’s clear to any casual observer that Brian likes horror but he came of age at a time when the horror market was saturated with uninspired remakes and reboots, which hasn’t set him up for success. Templated horror scenarios, like what’s seen in Unlisted Owner, are the result.
We’re well past the point where found footage films need a framing device, and while this reviewer always appreciates the effort to contextualize the movie, Unlisted Owner’s raison d’etre threatens the willing suspension of disbelief. The story is told from five different cameras (though much of the film is told from only two POVs), which are presently in the possession of the sheriff’s department. For reasons that are never made clear, the cops have edited the footage into a narrative to tell the story of what happened to the camera operators, their family, and friends. Why does this film exist? What are the cops hoping to achieve by making it? It’s no mystery what happened to the people inside the house, but the film’s final moments suggest the cops—the same cops who viewed and edited the footage—completely failed to act on what they learned from their filmmaking experiment.
Unlisted Owner ends as all contemporary horror must, with a tease. A study by King and Hourani (2007) states, with no qualification, that audiences don't like teaser endings. It worked great for Carrie back in 1976, but "one last scare" is, by now and by nature of the expectation, no longer scary. In the case of Unlisted Owner, it only serves to further separate the audience from their suspended disbelief. In short, it ruins everything about the movie.
Rachel’s Grade D+Share: