For reasons I will never understand Brian Bertino did not have a smooth road leading to the unceremonious dumping of MOCKINGBIRD on VOD and eventually a Wal-Mart only DVD release. THE STRANGERS was released in 2008 and since then it has been a pretty well regarded home invasion horror flick. Why studios weren’t throwing money at this guy to do something else I will never know. Low and behold Blumhouse and Universal stepped in to put out Bertino’s latest which wrapped production in 2012. The newly formed BH Tilt describes itself as a VOD arm of Blumhouse giving small genre films a chance to fly in the On Demand marketplace. As far as I can tell though it’s just an excuse to dump movies they have no idea how to market at an inflated price. MOCKINGBIRD dropped with at least three other films from BH Tilt to iTunes in early October at $20 a pop with absolutely no option to rent. It wasn’t until October 21st that the option to rent became available at a discounted price.
To put that into perspective before I get into my thoughts on MOCKINGBIRD, this release strategy mimics what larger studios currently practice with wide releases- but BH Tilt is doing so without the benefit of a theatrical release beforehand. Big Hollywood releases generally spend time in theaters for a certain amount of time before appearing as a digital purchase option a few weeks ahead of their DVD/Blu-ray release. Fans usually know if they are willing to buy that advanced digital release because they had a chance to see the film in theaters and were probably planning to buy the movie on DVD or Blu-ray regardless. So apparently BH Tilt’s plan bypasses the theatrical release in favor of an immediate digital purchase. It might not sound as dumb as I think it is, but I call it like I see it- most people do not like to BUY movies before renting them. Sure people pay upwards of $20 to see movies in theaters (generally 3D), but on a VOD platform your consumers are not watching on a massive screen with top of the line sound systems. It certainly does not seem that BH Tilt ironed out all their wrinkles before walking into the room, and the severe lack of press for the titles released so far equally fails to impress.
All of that out of the way, MOCKINGBIRD is a great film- certainly one deserving more than the shove out into the cold Blumhouse and Universal are giving it. From beginning to end all I kept thinking to myself was, “Why am I not sitting in a theater watching this?” The sound design mixed with the incredibly staged set pieces that provide many of the film’s key scares would have been absolutely terrifying in a theater setting- even more so than it was on my exceedingly pedestrian sound setup. The fact that it’s found footage is sure to turn some people off, but I am here to tell you that this is found footage that at the very least has a purpose. It certainly didn’t need to be found footage, as I could have seen this similar set up play out in a traditional way and still feature the characters running around with cameras.
MOCKINGBIRD follows three (technically four) people who open their front doors to find a camera at their doorsteps. Each are given instructions to keep filming no matter what. Before too long what started out as a fun surprise becomes an increasingly frightening nightmare that’s not likely to end well for anyone. The last statement is pretty obvious within the first five minutes of the movie- then again, we are watching a horror movie so I guess it’s unreasonable to expect butterflies and rainbows in the end.
As a film with a bare bones set up it takes quite a bit of skill to make it entertaining from beginning to end- and scary to boot. If I expected anything from Bertino, it’s that he had the ability to make this a worthwhile experience. He exceeds for 98% of the movie- the last 2% belong to an extremely disappointing ending. I had to deliberate for quite some time on just how much the last two minutes would color the previous 120 minutes of the film. What I’ve landed on is that while it really stretches the set up pretty thin, I can easily stomach a couple minutes of disappointment in favor of the dread that Bertino expertly built through the rest of the movie.
Here’s where the found footage angle really helps the movie. By using a first person perspective in the film’s more terrifying scenes it really helps to add the feeling of being there in the moment. I had an intense feeling of helplessness as I tried to place myself in each character’s shoes. There’s a sense of violation you feel when someone is so easily able to move around in your personal space without being noticed, which happens at multiple points in MOCKINGBIRD. From the first time one of the characters picks up the camera I never once felt like whoever was playing them like puppets was not in complete control- which only deflated me more in the final two minutes.
There’s not much else to say about MOCKINGBIRD without risking sounding like a broken record. I can’t imagine this particular film having a dialogue heavy script as a lot of it is just people reacting to horrific things and occasionally shouting out something that seems related to the story. That being said, the performances are pretty great in terms of people doing a great job of acting pretty freaked out about what is happening to them. Bertino’s film oozes dread from every oriface and contains a lot of really terrifying scenarios the characters are forced to endure. It makes me sad that the film had such a rocky road leading to its release- even sadder that Blumhouse has less faith in this than any number of the other lackluster releases they’ve marketed like crazy and shoved into theaters. Do yourself a favor and seek this one out, turn off the lights and prepare for a hell of a freaky ride. I just hope its not another six years before we see another Bertino film see the light of day.