DVD Review: Playback / Cert: 15 / Director: Michael A. Nickles / Screenplay: Michaek A. Nickles / Starring: Christian Slater, Toby Hemmingway, Johnny Pacar, Ambyr Childers / Release Date: July 16th
Wannabe film-maker Julian (Johnny Pacar) enlists his friends to film a reenactment of the town’s gruesome Harlan Diehl family murders for a school project. He asks social outcast Quinn (Toby Hemingway), an employee at the local news station, to assist with video equipment and research. During Quinn’s examination of raw video footage of the Diehl family farm, an evil spirit is unleashed with a menacing agenda. As Julian’s friends start disappearing, local police officer, Frank Lyons (Christian Slater), receives the order to investigate. As the secrets of the past are unveiled, the dark entity threatens to consume everyone in its way, using video as its evil medium.
Building on this intriguing premise writer-director Michael A. Nickles borrows liberally from past films that have used similar ‘haunted videotape’ themes. Think Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), Ring (1998) and Jeff (Squirm) Lieberman’s obscure 1988 alien mind-control flick Remote Control, and you have some idea of where Mickles is coming from.
In Playback the evil entity uses video technology as a way of possessing its victims and controlling them into doing its bidding, becoming stronger with each ‘generation’ of transfer. Intriguingly, Nickles provides a backstory for the entity that sees it first using early cinema for its nefarious ends: the idea held by many in the first days of photography that the film image somehow captures the soul or provides a form of immortality. As the decades go on and film becomes videotape and then digital media, the entity grows stronger as video imagery becomes more prevalent. In the modern world of iPhones and video emails, there is no escaping the evil influence if it wants to get you! A comment on the insidious effects of social networking and voyeurism in the digital age? Maybe.
Voyeurism certainly plays a big part of the film. Christian Slater (whose talents are woefully underused here) plays a cop-with-a-crush who enjoys watching covert footage of high school girls provided by Quinn. The film opens with an extended Halloween-type POV shot of a murder scene filmed by the killer. These tapes later provide the clue to the motives of the evil entity and a plot twist involving the protagonist, Julian. The film also pulls a few ‘real or filmed’ tricks on the viewer, making us wonder if what we are seeing is really happening or just a scene in Julian’s documentary.
So, Playback has some interesting ideas and develops them well. The trouble is it lacks the cold fear and suspense of Ring because Nickles gives away the plot too soon. Instead it soon becomes a more run-of-the-mill slasher as Quinn sets out to retrieve the original Diehl tapes, killing everyone in his way.
Shame, as Playback could have been so much more gripping.
Special Features: None