Saturday, February 25, 2012

Taming of the Skew: Found Footage With a Hint of Something Novel

I recently was given the opportunity to judge the Killer Film Festival in 2011. It was my first outing as a fest judge and while it left me feeling slightly ineffectual, it gave me an eye into what indy filmmakers had in store for us; what they thought would scare audiences and what stories they want to tell. For the most part I felt that most of the entrants had recently seen one of the top grossing horror films coming out of Hollywood and tried to put their own spin on it and imitated it at times unintentionally. The particular criteria by which I most heavily judged a film was novelty of story; Was the filmmaker telling me something new even if it was done in a popular genre. That's where Skew comes into the picture.

Skew, released by Sleep Apnea Productions, is shot in the found footage style with a novel twist. Instead of the film having been found and simply left to passive observation, the film is interacted with; rewound at points to analyze the strange circumstance our protagonists under go. Now I'm sure you've had it up to here with the found footage era, and upon my initial viewing during the KFF I was less than impressed with a found footage ghost story. Well... that was upon my first viewing with 60 plus other films to consider. I really didn't think twice about saying that Skew was a well shot film for the found footage style, but that it failed due to some audio disturbance, lack of originality and simply put, not scary.Those were my first impressions in late 2011.

Fast forward to my most recent viewing in early February of 2012. Had my opinion of the film changed and would bringing it out of the context of the film festival spotlight cast the film in a new light? Yes. Plain and simple. I'm not going to go out of my way to say that Skew was the best damn found footage movie in recent memory. I for one enjoyed the most recent incarnation of Paranormal Activity, enjoyed Grave Encounters and the Tunnel and miss the savvy Blair Witch crew something fierce. This film is competent and it does demonstrate some ingenuity that wasn't quite apparent to me upon my initial viewing especially when placed in competition with other films that might be more to my liking.


Some guy buys a camera and decides to shoot every god damn thing that happens on his road trip across the US on his way to a wedding with his friends. Drama ensues involving some unrequited love and a relationship that may or may not be in the shitter followed immediately by a hotel stay that ends in a dead sales clerk and a ghost on video that can't be seen without aid of the video. Said ghost was visible only through the camera eye and then does not appear on the playback. The travel across the country continues when our would be filmmaker realizes that some of his subjects have blurred faces and that this blurred face means... DEATH. What's in the camera? Did somebody book a reservation for a hotel in the Twilight Zone?  Did all of the amateur cameraman's subjects watch The Ring (yes I liked the American version better) and now have blurred faces in all forms of photography due to their impending venture cross the River Styx?

What makes or breaks found footage films? Actors. If you have bad actors, we, the audience, know it and we will strap you to the fucking wheel for it. Your movie that may or may not be called the Devil Inside will rot in the cinema toilet bowl. Skew does not have bad actors and in fact has some very believable folks in front of the lens. These kids have heart, look like everyday Joe's and can play the camera well. It's something that you might not pick up on the first viewing and it sets this film apart from some of its lesser brethren. It's not about NOT staring into the camera. It's about staring into the camera and believing that no one but your drunk buddies are going to see it.

Yes, Skew suffers from some characteristically dark shots and audio difficulties. I realize that that's all part of being "real", but there's a difference between reality and the movie theater. A little work on the post production and some sound checks and this film will move up a notch on its way to being a more professional version of the the found footage movie. It's not like their attempting to make a shot-on-VHS movie where the glitches ARE the focal point of the film. You still want your disbelief suspended.

Now what separates Skew from the Paranormal Activity family is the real time review of the footage being shot. For quite a long stretch you believe the movie has been found after some tragic event must have befallen our lovable cadre of wedding goers. Not so. Midway through the film the camera man is rewinding the film to review recent events. What that means is that when you're watching Skew, the movie is still in production as you watch it and YOU are the camera man. Or at least you feel like your seeing what the camera man sees. Doesn't that make you feel like you're young Michael Myers climbing the stairs to off your sis with a butcher knife? Well it may not be quite that shocking but it's real time and not simply "found". This shouldn't wallop you with a Captain Caveman club, but it does set it apart from what filmmakers are overdoing.

There are a couple spooky moments in this movie and a couple of jump scares. The ghost/dead guy make up is definitely on par with other films like it. There's not great leap forward and no one is imitating the Poltergeist stacked chairs routine. In part, the movie's simplicity is a strong suit.  Seve Schelenz has given us a simple ghost story and told it back to using around the modern campfire of the priced to own video camcorder and then twists it back on itself in the dramatic nipple twister ending. It was said about this film that it is, "like Paranormal Activity on steroids". I'd say it's like Paranormal Activity on Ketamine (Special K to you street folk). It's disorienting, slow and fuzzy, but every once in awhile you end up in a "k hole" and you can't figure out how you get out. While it's not my favorite type of flick, fans of this style of movie will probably enjoy it for all the right reasons and not because its playing off the success of Paranormal Activity. There's a mystery to solve even if the Scooby Doo gang is nowhere to be seen.

This movie is the festival slut of indy films. Just check out it's award and selection resume:

- a night of horror international film festival of australia (march 2011) - world premiere AND winner of independent spirit award
- myrtle beach international film festival (april) - north american premiere
- big island film festival of hawaii (may)
- phoenix fear film festival (may)
- seattle's true independent film festival (june)
- pittsburgh horror film festival (june)
- urban suburban film festival of phliadelphia (june) - winner of "best feature film"
- lighthouse international film festival of new jersey (june)
- fright night film fest of kentucky (july)
- mississauga independent film festival (july) - closing night feature
- manhattan film festival (july)
- san antonio horrific film festival (august) - nomination for "best actor"
- syracuse horror sci-fi & fantasy film festival (september)
- moondance international film festival of colorado (september) - feature film semi-finalist
- film north - huntsville international film festival (september)
- big bear horro-fi film festival of california (september) - festival opening feature
- nashville comic and horror fest (october) - festival closing night feature
- freak show horror film festival of florida (october)
- pollygrind film festival of las vegas (october) - festival closing feature
- maryland international film festival (october) - nomination finalist best feature film
- spooky movie international horror film festival of virginia (october)
- lucerne international film fest of switzerland (october)
- thriller! chiller! film festival of michigan (october)
- fargo fantastic film festival (october)
- horror quest film festival of atlanta (october)
- carnage international film festival of north carolina (october) - opening feature film
- late night horror film festival of california (october) - winner "best director"
- ravenna nightmare film festival of italy (october)
- south african horrorfest (october) - winner "indie feature spirit award"
- offshoot film fest of arkansas (october)
- midnight black international festIval of darkness of california (october)
- fear fete horror film festival of louisiana (october)- opening night feature AND announced winner of "best horror fantasy feature" AND nomination for "best feature film actress"
- salty horror international film festival of utah (november) - winner best feature actress - amber lewis
- drunken zombie film festival of illinois (november) - festival opening feature
- killer film fest of massachusetts (november)
- blood bath 3 film festival of dallas (november)
- oaxaca international independent film and video festival of mexico (november)
- cinefantasy international fantastic film festival of brazil (november)
- nevada film festival (december) - winner "best feature"
- irvine international film festival (january 2012)
- starlite film festival (February)

You actually stand a good chance of seeing this picture, folks!

-Dr. Terror

And by the by... if you ever discover that your camera some how marks people for death and you take footage of me... we're not friends anymore.


  1. niiice you have my interest peaked:)...skips off to find a copy of Skew...

  2. After speaking with the Director he reminded me that this was shot in 2005 before the "found footage era". Puts this film in a whole new light and higher up on the food chain. Might even be able to pick it up on Netflix. Enjoy the hunt!