Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Capture (2017)

Warning: I will have to spoil at least a couple of the film’s cool bits!

Hong Kong ex-pat living in the USA Sarah (Sarah Lian) has to return to the city of her earlier years because her grandmother has fallen ill, and she’s the only member of the family left that can take care of the old lady. Because this is a POV horror film, Sarah uses the shiny new camera phone her med student boyfriend gave her to film a travel diary for him. She’s mostly planning to show off her home city and her encounters with the friends – clearly the kids of rich parents and ex-pats who sent their children to a posh English language school – she hasn’t seen since the end of her high school days when she moved to the USA, but there’s quite a lot of disturbing stuff going on around her. It’s July, ghost month, you see, so the gates are open for a rather nasty series of supernatural events. At first, it seem to be random supernatural shenanigans, but it slowly becomes clear the events taking place now are connected to the reason Sarah left Hong Kong in the first place, and something is working towards a rather unpleasant goal for her.

I didn’t expect much at all going into Georgia Lee’s Capture, for POV movies supposedly filmed on the cells of their doomed main characters are a dime a dozen now, and horror films about Americans – which Sarah functionally is – meeting horrible ends in foreign countries are as a rule a pretty dire group. However, the film at hand turned out to be quite a bit better than I expected (or feared).

Firstly, Lee doesn’t use the cellphone source of the footage as an excuse to not put any thought into staging and blocking of scenes; instead, she seems to treat this basic conceit as a challenge to still create a film that’s moody and carefully staged. There are some very impressive moments shot with relatively static camera angles that use the strange intimacy of the POV form to creepy effect, but the camera also moves a lot in suspiciously non-shaky ways where the characters always get the right angle on something.

Of course, and here we come to the spoilers, there’s a reason for the cameras in this particular POV film always filming the interesting stuff – unlike many a camera in other POV films - for this is one of the examples of the style that turns the cameras themselves into parts of the supernatural menace, even going so far as giving us a literal murder cam later in the film. Even better, the ghost possessing the cameras and cellphones in the film is actually written as the ghost of a person for whom this particular habit makes sense, filming Sarah – if she wanted to or not – having been one of his habits when he was still alive as well, the film doubling down on the horror of being stalked. There’s obviously a nice bit of mirroring happening between Sarah returning to a place where a guy stalked her and filmed her only to start filming herself there, too, in hindsight adding a particular frisson to the film’s early stages.

So, yes, this is indeed a POV horror film that doesn’t just look really good but that’s also written with a degree of thought and care you don’t often find in the format (well, unless it’s a Koji Shiraishi film), with actual thematic heft circling not just the menacing element of cameras being everywhere but also thinking about the way this might reshape human relationships.

Capture further recommends itself with a dark ending that actually hits home for once because the film does indeed put in the effort to make Sarah likeable and human, her past guilt not as huge as the horror-affine viewer would at first suspect, and so her final fate genuinely upsetting and unfair. A possible feminist reading concerning a very concrete male gaze should be rather obvious, too, but Lee doesn’t feel the need to emphasise this aspect of her movie specifically; it’s there for anyone to see as a part of Capture, but it’s not the only reason for the film to exist.

The script, as should be obvious by now, is really rather good, suggesting elements of the character backgrounds without feeling the need to endlessly reiterate them, drawing characters and scenes quickly yet thoroughly. There is indeed quite a bit of suggested stuff going on in the background, of Sarah not just leaving an old friend behind in high school but eschewing him stepping up the class ladder, of her being disquieted by now returning to Hong Kong and realizing that her former home isn’t quite a place she can as instinctively manoeuvre in as you should in the place you think of as home. There’s more intelligence to the script than might be strictly needed for a relatively straightforward film, even, but one shouldn’t complain about a film doing more and thinking more than it strictly needs to.

There are also quite a few nice shots of Hong Kong locations that find the good middle between touristy showing off of the places this was shot in and using them well for the plot – there’s a sense of place to this movie version of Hong Kong I wouldn’t have expected of it.

All of this comes together to form one really rather fine horror film, as well as one that suggests that there’s no problem with POV horror a good director like Lee can’t solve.

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