Monday, February 8, 2016

Taylor Ri'chard/Zach Davis' THE FINAL PROJECT: the latest found-footage fumble

God damn -- they just keep on a comin', these nothing-new-under-the-sun, hand-held, found-footage exercises that began 17 years ago with The Blair Witch Project. With the exception of the terrific, engaging, funny, creepy and surprising Afflicted, there has barely been a movie in this new genre worth its salt, including that original boring and pretty awful marketing success, Blair Witch. Now arrives a film that marks the biggest waste of time TrustMovies has spent viewing both this year and last (maybe longer, too): THE FINAL PROJECT, the title of which comes via the video project a group of supposed college kids (they look a lot older) must deliver to their professor in order to get a passing grade. (The best thing about the film is its smart poster art, shown above.)

As directed, co-produced and co-written by newcomer Taylor Ri'chard (shown at left) and co-written/co-produced by Zach Davis (also a newcomer), the film begins with some barely understandable babblings (due to perhaps deliberately crummy sound) from a shadowy figure wondering why these kids would deliberately go into a known-to-be-haunted house. As Austin Powers might say, "Oh, come on!"

All too soon we realize that the sound is not the only thing sub-standard here. The visuals are even worse.  And both remain so throughout. I still do not quite understand why the filmmakers who dabble in this fairly new genre insist on providing some of the worst dialog currently going -- crammed with unsubtle exposition and attempting "realism" before art or entertainment.

These found footage "epics" desperately need characters with a trace of intelligence and wit, so that they can mouth some dialog that's fun and clever for a change, rather than the supposedly "realistic" but uber-tiresome stuff that comes out of the mouths of these cretins. The difference between the characters (their concerns and their dialog) in a joy like Paper Towns or the formerly mentioned Afflicted and the kids seen and heard here gives us the difference between a real movie and a big, fat waste of time.

Worse yet: So little happens for such a long while that audiences are likely to tune out well before the first scare (a comic one) arrives at the 49-minute point.  There's another scary scare at the 69-minute point, if you're still around. The entire film lasts only 79 minutes, with an extra full minute or more devoted to a supposedly frightening scratching sound on the soundtrack while the screen is black -- then appears a visual of a final newspaper article about disappeared students. All this extra nonsense allows the movie to reach its requisite 80-odd-minute running time.

Not a scene in the film has any originality; it's all been-there/done-that -- from playing the game of "Never-have-I-ever" and the inevitable sound of things that go bump in the night to dialog like "Mama, don't worry. Nuthin's gonna happen" and "We're gonna get outta here! It's gonna be all right!" If we are told -- and you can bet we are -- about an apparition in a white dress, you can be sure we'll see her eventually (as in the window above). Some of the other things we hear about, we don't see -- Civil War soldiers, for instance -- but as the budget here is miniscule, we are not surprised.

For awhile, the movie appears as though it might be more a simple murder mystery than anything to do with occult.  But so poorly made is the film that you can't be certain this was an intentional red herring on the filmmakers' part or the result of sheer laziness and lack of talent. The acting, from all concerned, is only as good as the dialog and characteri-zations make possible. The most interesting performance comes from Arin Jones (shown center, below, and three photos above), as the movie's most mysterious presence.

The surprising thing about The Final Project, however, is that it comes from the distributor, CAVU Pictures. CAVU releases a diverse slate -- from art films (Sunset Edge) to documentaries (The Real Dirt on Farmer John) to genre movie (Lucky Bastard). What unites these is their quality and originality. So I don't know quite what to make of this company's latest, well..., "surprise."

In any case, the movie opens this Friday, February 12, in Houston and Atlanta, and the following Friday, February 19, in Broussard, Louisiana, and on March 4 in New York and Los Angeles, and then expands nationwide. You can view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters by clicking here

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