“Do you have to film everything?”
That’s the opening line of dialogue in The Gracefield Incident, the first feature film from Mathieu Ratthe, which, over the course of 90 minutes, never properly answers that question. The “found footage” horror movie can occasionally provide an innovative and informative point of view, but more often it is a crutch for filmmakers looking to mine suspense through a choppy, sometimes nauseous, first-person camera angle. In this case, it functions as the latter, and the movie wears its references and inspirations, both found footage and not—everything from The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield to Signs to Cabin in the Woods—on its sleeve, wrinkled in clichés that check off the genre’s pre-established boxes.
Ratthe, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Matthew, a video game editor in Canada who haphazardly films his pregnant wife (Kimberly Laferriere) while driving to the hospital. Not a minute into their conversation, the car is T-boned (a frustrating and frequently filmed trope), managing to take his right eye and, much more catastrophically, their unborn child. Ten months later, Matthew, obsessed with filming, has embedded an iPhone camera into a prosthetic eye, giving the movie its primary lens. He and his wife pick up four friends for a weekend vacation and the prior tragedy, which tries its best to haunt the movie, hasn’t deterred him from continuing to record video in the driver’s seat. Nor does it grapple with the logistics and ethical responsibilities of using an artificial device implanted into his eye socket, despite the devoted montage of its creation.
But never mind: This is simply a convenient explanation for filming in this manner. The group’s weekend eventually comes loaded with familiar portents—no cell phone reception, a “No Trespassing” sign, an eerie cabin beside a lake and forest—before a meteorite nearly scathes their residence and lands in the woods. The guys, who give the movie a few more needed points of view because they just happen to have brought their cameras with them, find the landing site nearby and decide it’s smart to dig up a buried glowing rock. Soon after, the forest becomes a haunted maze, where alien arms wrap around shoulders and make shrieking noises.
“I’m sure there’s nothing to be worried about,” Matthew tells his wife, waiting by the forest edge, but of course there is. It’s one of several contrived lines that help explain the poor and predictable decisions this crew makes. Some decide to roam the woods by themselves, others prowl the house through its many doors and hallways, startled by every adjacent creak. Ratthe includes some intriguing imagery (the visual effects are more than serviceable for the film’s budget), including a balloon motif, which suggests something more supernatural that’s all caught on camera by the cabin’s convenient surveillance system.
The third act of The Gracefield Incident increases in silliness as the extraterrestrial being, given a unique visual form, increases its wrath. But the thrills become rather predictable. It’s clear Ratthe is culling concepts from a litany of source material, and he’s got a germ of a darker movie in here that he more than tip-toes around. It’s just a shame that, for all of its first-person camera footage, the movie has such a generic perspective.
Director: Mathieu Ratthe
Writer: Mathieu Ratthe
Starring: Mathieu Ratthe, Kimberly Laferriere, Juliette Gosselin, Laurence Dauphinais
Release Date: July 21, 2017