Found Footage Done Right

by Nav Qateel

While out on assignment, a news team discover a box of videotapes that point to a family being stalked by a mysterious, suited, faceless man. The family appears to have vanished into thin air, leaving behind all their worldly belongings. As well as finding the tapes in the basement, the team spot the same crossed-circle symbol drawn on the walls hundreds of times. Things are starting to look spooky and interesting to the reporter.

Thinking they’re finally onto a “real” story, camera-operator Milo (Chris Marquette), producer Charlie (Jake McDorman), and sexy reporter Sara (Alexandra Breckenridge), start their investigation by looking through many hours of family home footage, where they can clearly see the suited figure appearing with greater frequency, slowly driving the family mad. Unexpectedly, the faceless apparition starts to come after the terrified news team, forcing them to try to uncover what became of the missing family, lest a similar fate befall the three of them.

Always Watching is based on the popular web-series Marble Hornets and the “Slender Man” character, something I’ve only ever heard of but never watched. Here, Slenderman is known as the Operator (played by Doug Jones), and can only be seen through a camera and not by the naked eye. This, of course, gives low budget filmmakers and writers the perfect opportunity to have their characters legitimately carry some form of permanently recording camera — something most newbie directors struggle mightily to achieve, often rendering their films less than effective, … or just plain bad. The Bell Witch Haunting springs to mind.

Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story
Directed by
James Moran
Alexandra Breckenridge, Chris Marquette, Jake McDorman
Release Date
7 April 2015
Nav’s Grade: B

Always Watching opens on a terror-stricken couple running through woods, filming as they go while looking for, then finding the faceless man. They’re trying to make it back to their car, and after they get split up, Katie reaches it but appears to be alone. Suddenly, Eli smashes the window and drags her out of the car then off-camera. This seemingly bit of random footage ties in neatly with what we learn at the end, and is a clear indicator that Ian Shorr’s (Splinter) smart screenplay, just like everything else about this production, was taken very seriously.

We quickly move to another brief scene, where Milo and Sara meet casually at a New Year’s Eve party, where the pair decide to get it on. But rather than treat it as the one night stand that it was, Milo begins to follow Sara around, filming her at every opportunity. Again, this gives Milo a reason to be constantly filming. It also leads to there being some animosity between Charlie and Milo, after Charlie and Sara start dating. Although we never really go anywhere with the characters themselves, I do appreciate the fact that an attempt was made to flesh them out a bit.

It’s not long before Milo starts seeing the Operator for himself, and one encounter leaves him with the crossed-circle symbol burned onto his shoulder. Soon, the three of them are afraid to go anywhere without a camera constantly on. At one point they decide to stop filming in the hope that the Operator will simply leave them alone, however, Milo’s pet dog is killed as a warning not to try that again. Now, all that’s left for them to do is to try to track down the missing family. But will what they uncover be enough to save them?

The performances were very good, which isn’t something one sees all that often in this sub-genre of horror. The prolific Chris Marquette was as reliable as ever, and the stunning Alexandra Breckenridge made a very plausible reporter. Jake McDorman’s moody character was as interesting to watch as Marquette’s Milo, with all three actors playing well off one another, which was another major point in this movie’s favor. James Moran’s direction was commendable, added to the fact that the filmmaker managed create such a polished example of a format that’s been quite literally done to death. That, and zombies.

James Moran’s horror slowly builds up tension, then manages to sustain that feeling right to the very end. If you want to see how found-footage should be done, then look no further than Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story.

Highly Recommended.

Read an exclusive interview with Director James Moran here.