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Film Review: ‘The Gracefield Incident’

Variety logo Variety 7/20/2017 Dennis Harvey

Though the original “Blair Witch Project” will be coming up on its 20th anniversary soon enough (and “Paranormal Activity” just celebrated its 10th), its curse is still very much with us — that being the curse of the found-footage horror movie, which for every revivifying new example still brings us half a dozen or more films like “The Gracefield Incident,” which recycle genre cliches through an exhausted gimmick deployed strictly for cost-cutting rather than imaginative reasons. There are some unintentional laughs to be had from this hectic, silly, defiantly un-scary mashup of stock “cabin in the woods” and alien-invasion formulae. But that dubious plus won’t be enough to soften the scorn of horror fans who plunk down hard cash for this feeble, somewhat amateurish if enthusiastic retread.

Video-game editor Matthew (producer, writer, director, editor and star Mathieu Ratthe) is driving along with pregnant wife Jessica (Kimberly Laferriere) when they suffer a collision — seemingly due to their oblivious absorption in filming each other — that results in her miscarriage and his loss of an eye. Ten months later, they and two other couples head off to his boss’s deluxe hunting lodge for a weekend getaway. This lot’s over-amped party-heartiness and on-the-nose dialogue have already made them tiresome company by the time what appears to be a meteorite soars overhead, crashing somewhere nearby. The lads go to investigate, managing to get lost in the woods before finding the impact point, prying some kind of space rock out of a hole, and getting chased around by an angry E.T.

Finally getting back to the cabin, they decide “not to tell the girls.” Regardless, soon everyone is running and screaming from the tall, apparently hostile whatsit, which periodically whisks one of them up into the sky.

All of this is energetic — too much so where the acting is concerned, with the cast substituting hyperventilation for character and credibility — and reasonably well-crafted in technical terms, particularly the decent effects by Rodeo and Oblique. Yet it’s never remotely convincing, let alone surprising, carrying all too much the air of stock borrowed ideas executed by principal collaborators whose enterprise is more admirable than their expertise.

The “found footage” angle resides in the action being seen primarily from the viewpoint of Matthew’s replacement eye, which for no obvious reason now contains a digital camera. Well, the reason is obvious, but not in plot terms: The shaky-cam “found” conceit excuses cheaper production values. That makes it an understandable choice for first-time indie feature filmmakers, albeit one that’s irksome and over-exposed enough by now to require more ingenious contextualizing than “The Gracefield Incident” provides. Instead, neophyte feature helmer Ratthe tries to ratchet up the “intensity” via much yelling (as characters often pointlessly articulate what we can already plainly see for ourselves) that only renders the whole enterprise yea more hysterical and ridiculous. Nor does it help when things end on a note of pat sentimentality that won’t go down well with the average horror fan.

Shot in Quebec with a primarily Francophone cast and crew, the film is nonetheless all English-language.

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