After doing distinctive genre work in The House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011), writer-director Ti West stumbles with this found-footage horror movie about a group of NYC journalists who end up on the wrong side of a Jonestown-like cult. Vice correspondents Sam (A.J. Bowen), Jake (Joe Swanberg) and Patrick (Kentucker Audley) travel to a remote tropical compound, cameras in tow, after receiving a letter from Patrick’s sister Caroline (Amy Seimetz). Their goal is to create an immersive, hard-hitting piece and likely rescue Caroline in the process. But red flags aside (what’s with the gun-toting soldiers at the perimeter?), all the residents seem happy to live in this utopia created by the charismatic Father (Gene Jones).
We know different, of course. There wouldn’t be a movie if the shit didn’t hit the fan and the poisoned punch wasn’t proffered. The journey to the tainted juice is—as is West’s wont—a slow one, which unfortunately doesn’t build tension so much as call attention to the ineffectualness of the first-person device. There are plenty of failed cheats to heighten the drama (really, how many cameras do they have?), and the mumblecore all-stars cast never believably suggests that we’re watching terrified people navigating a bad situation. Only Jones seems most at home, striking just the right note of low-key malevolence. You’d follow him anywhere—maybe even into a better movie.
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