Part The Ring and part Hugo, Playback takes a potentially intriguing concept and punctuates it with extreme gore rather than thrilling suspense. Throw in some uninspired writing and nonsensical plot details, and you’ve got an exercise in irritation.
While digging into his small town’s infamous past for a school project, Julian (Johnny Pacar) discovers that there’s more to the story than his mom, a police lieutenant, has let on. For one, the house where some notorious murders took place is still standing; for another, there was a baby at the scene who survived. (That either of these particulars could have escaped the public consciousness is just the first in a string of highly implausible developments.)
A film buff, Julian learns from a colleague at the video store where he works that there’s a bizarre wrinkle to the story: The boy who slaughtered his whole family was adopted and actually a descendant of Louis Le Prince, the true father of filmmaking. (Le Prince is a real guy, and his footage used in the film, Roundhay Garden Scene, is the oldest surviving motion picture.) His coworker also confides that rumor has it Le Prince was the devil, and that he could not only steal a subject’s soul with his camera but replace it with his own. It seems that this is what has happened to Quinn (Toby Hemingway, currently appearing in TV’s quirky The Finder), the huffing (seriously) local TV station archivist who lends Julian camera equipment and secures peeping-Tom footage of high school girls for perv cop Frank Lyons (Christian Slater).
Death by video has been done before (see the aforementioned The Ring, which is cited in the movie in case one missed the similarities), and done well. And though the Le Prince angle is a compelling bit of film history trivia, the characters, including Julian’s girlfriend Riley (Ambyr Childers), her rebellious best friend Brianna (Alessandra Torresani) and Brianna’s goody-two-shoes sister Deedee (Jennifer Missoni), are little more than clichés. It doesn’t help that some of the scenarios—Quinn/Le Prince has to be two floors away from his victim for the transfer to take place—are just fatally nonsensical, even in the realm of the supernatural.
Given its many flaws, Playback would have been more truthfully titled Moneyback—you’ll likely want yours after the first time through.
Director: Michael A. Nickles
Writer: Michael A. Nickles
Starring: Christian Slater, Ambyr Childers, Toby Hemingway, Jonathan Keltz, Jennifer Missoni, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, Johnny Pacar, Alessandra Torresani
Release Date: Mar. 9, 2012