Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In short: Keep Watching (2017)

The Mitchell’s – father Carl (Ioan Gruffudd), daughter Jamie (Bella Thorne), son John (Chandler Riggs) and stepmom Nicole (Natalie Martinez) – are returning from a vacation to the family home. Things are a bit strained, for Jamie’s not able to get over her father “replacing” her dead mother with Nicole, while Nicole’s clearly trying to pretend she doesn’t notice, like a politician hoping all problems go away if you just ignore them for long enough.

There’s even more stuff of this sort in the first half hour or so, but little of it will matter much for the rest of the movie, mind you, for while the family have been away their house has been rigged with a truly improbable number of hidden cameras and microphones. We the audience already know the Mitchells are going to be the newest project of a gang of masked killers who like to get into fights with troubled rich families, and kidnap the last survivors for a not at all surprising plot twist, streaming their exploits time-delayed on the Internet.

At its core, Sean Carter’s Keep Watching is a perfectly fine low budget home invasion thriller that tries to avoid the class issues of the genre by keeping its killers truly faceless – apart from the one plot twist bit, of course. The hidden camera angle – even though it is nearly absurdly improbable without the bad guys actually having super powers of precognition – works out much better for the film than I would have assumed, pushing it into quite a few original set-ups for shots which also influence the suspense scenes enough they do not feel quite as well-trodden as the plot and the nature of the suspense actually is. The actors are selling the material well too, with some good shadowy looming by whoever plays the masked people, a much better performance by Thorne’s final girl than we got from her in the last two horror films I saw her in (though one was that Amityville abomination, so that one only a very cynical watcher would blame on the kid), and decent stuff by Riggs and Martinez too.

So most of the film is a tight, rather entertaining thrill ride that combines the bourgeois fear of home invasion with vague anxieties about the evil Internet and surveillance, and that’s really all I’d ask of a pleasant low budget number like this one. Alas, the film also adds some elements of psychological mind-fuckery concentrating on Jamie it does too little with to be effective, and which do not actually feed as well into the final plot twist as they should. As plot twists go, I’ve seen worse – at least it has something to do with the rest of the movie – but I’d also argue the plot twist and what is supposed to prepare for it don’t really do much at all for the effect of the film, instead regularly slowing it down for business that just isn’t as riveting as Keep Watching seems to think it is.

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