REVIEW: THE UPPER FOOTAGE (UPPER) / CERT: NR / DIRECTOR: JUSTIN COLE / SCREENPLAY: JUSTIN COLE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW VIA VIMEO ON DEMAND
When The Blair Witch Project opened the floodgates on the found footage sub-genre, plenty of imitators tried their luck, but with The Upper Footage, director Cole has managed to both cleverly recreate that original online buzz and replicate the effect the 1999 film had on the audience.
The film opens with a recap of the story as it transpired, beginning with a young girl, Jackie, who went missing in 2009 after being seen leaving a nightclub with a group of New York socialites. Almost a year later, footage showing her overdosing on a bathroom floor after snorted copious amounts of cocaine appeared on YouTube with the intent to blackmail the others in the clip. When more clips appeared in 2011, reports spread that Quentin Tarantino had acquired the raw files and intended to make them into a feature film, which he subsequently abandoned.
What follows is, allegedly, all that was salvaged from the original recording made that fateful night. It shows a group of rich friends, Blake Pennington, his girlfriend, Taylor Greene, Devon Petrovsky and Will Erixon (who has decided to film the night out on his camcorder) taking a limo ride to cruise the streets and clubs. On the way, Devon picks up a girl, Jackie Spearo, who tags along, and they head back to Blake's penthouse to party. Cue lots of cocaine and alcohol. Things take a dark turn when Jackie dies in the bathroom, and the four of them, panicking, decide to bury the body in the woods.
Like the majority of found footage films, the camera-work is deliberately shaky, but here we also a large percentage of out-of-focus shots and long stretches in which the camera is pointing at something irrelevant. Now, this does heighten the feeling of watching genuine footage, but the negative side of that is it's fairly nauseating for the viewer. Other than the obnoxiousness of the characters, it's the film's only downfall.
On a broader scale, The Upper Footage points a light on the deep-routed trend for self-serving among the privileged and well off, the dangers of drug use and of course, the audience's curiosity to view horrific and traumatic events; if this footage is real, what does it say about us for watching, or the media for getting so excited about it? Like many so-called 'real footage' films of the past, the truth is far from it, but the setup is so well handled (right down to no credited cast or crew) it's difficult to remember that once you begin watching. The victim's face is pixelated throughout, and a whole scene is removed 'out of respect for the family' (in fact, the family of the actor playing Jackie threatened all sorts to get it suppressed) which do add to the realism. Like it or loathe it, the film is certainly going to provoke some emotion from viewing, even if it's just a pathological hatred of the type of person depicted.