abandoned research facilities, Blair Witch, Branko Tomovic, Charlotte Riley, cinema, creepy buildings, Darkest Secrets, Dervla Kirwan, drama, Entity, film reviews, films, found-footage, found-footage films, horror, horror film, horror films, Movies, Oliver Jackson, psychics, Rupert Hill, Siberia, Steve Stone, writer-director, [REC]
I’ve always felt that a good location is the one thing that can turn an “okay” horror film into a “pretty good” horror film. There’s a lot of other ingredients that go into the cake, of course, but an interesting location is the one that usually seems like an afterthought. Too often, horror filmmakers (especially low-to-no budget filmmakers) put an undue focus on their makeup, effects and gore, which are usually the three areas that even films with decent budgets struggle against. The value of a good, unique, creepy location just can’t be discounted, however: I’ve seen at least two dozen films that were made highly watchable (and even quite enjoyable) thanks to an expertly used location. For example, Hollow (2011) is a fairly worthless wannabe chiller but it makes tremendous use of one of the single creepiest trees I’ve ever seen, granting the film more class than it really deserves. As far as horror films go, Chernobyl Diaries (2012) is a complete flop, yet the movie is filmed in an abandoned Russian air force base (subbing in for the irradiated city of Pripyat) and I get goose bumps just thinking about it. Sometimes, a really great location can help keep a film afloat, even if there’s always the feeling of wasted potential. Sometimes, however, even a really creepy location can’t save an inherently flawed film: Entity (2012), yet another found footage film, is flawed to the point of being essentially useless and squanders a genuinely eerie location with one massively clumsy story.
A small film crew, led by Kate (Charlotte Riley), are trooping through a forest in Siberia as part of a TV show called Darkest Secrets. With Kate are her crew members, Matt (Rupert Hill) and David (Oliver Jackson), as well as a psychic with a lazy eye named Ruth (Dervla Kirwan) and a local guide named Yuri (Branko Tomovic). They’re out there to discover the truth behind 34 bodies that were discovered there twelve years before; as they explore, their investigation brings them to a mysterious, ultra-creepy, abandoned research facility in the middle of the forest. Once there, the intrepid crews will have to deal with lots of…well, lots of something, but I’ll be honest: I was so often confused that I’m not sure what they’re dealing with. The only thing I am sure of is that the facility was used to test psychics, which means this may be some sort of X-Men tie-in: if so, it would definitely explain my confusion. If not…well…
Any plot summary of Entity will, most likely, seem confusing, with good reason: the film is highly confusing. The narrative is jumbled, character motivations frequently seem more whimsical than based on any reality (even within the framework of the story) and the shooting style (tight shots, frequently using a “night-vision-camera” effect, with extremely quick-cut editing, ala [REC]) just makes everything worse. All too often, some sort of chaotic activity would happen, characters would run around, regroup and the whole process would repeat itself. Were there any more than four characters on-screen at any given time, I would definitely have had trouble telling them apart: as it is, I can close my eyes and have absolutely no memory of what either Matt or David looked like: the only thing I can remember is Ruth’s damn lazy eye, which will haunt my dreams forever.
Entity is that rare film that manages to be both boring and overly fidgety, frequently throwing out that quick-cut POV footage to no good effect and possessing about zero forward momentum. This is also another of those found-footage films that feels compelled to constantly remind us of its conceit by way of exceptionally tedious picture grain, sound loss, rolling picture, etc. Like the very worst of these, Entity goes so overboard with the effect that it makes it seem as if the crew is shooting on a crappy thrift-store camera that’s been kicked into traffic a few too many times: with footage that bad, their show would be lucky to air on public access, much less any kind of legitimate network. This, of course, is lazy filmmaking at its worst, no different from using cheap stereotypes as a way to shorthand character development.
Speaking of character development: there is none. We know, essentially, the same thing about the characters on the way out as we knew on the way in, which is to say, not enough to give a shit. Kate is shrill and annoying, Matt and David are anonymous, Yuri is way too hyper and Ruth vacillates between looking confused, looking scared and trying to look scary: of the three emotions, confusion seems to be her most natural mode. Since we don’t know anything about the characters and none of them are charismatic or interesting on a service level, there’s absolutely no sense of urgency in the film: it’s hard to be worried about a character when you would kind like to wring their neck, yourself.
But about that aforementioned location: is it worth watching the film for? Absolutely not, unless you’re the same sort of stupid masochist I must be. The research facility is actually really scary, the kind of place that would seem to write its own horror film. And, to be honest, I bet that would be a pretty interesting film. What we get, however, is reheated mush, yet another “ghosts in a facility” tale that traffics in pale-skinned, dark-haired “creepy girls,” stereotypically “scary” faces and lots of stupid jump scares. By the time we get to the tired ending (ever get the feeling that the old-timey photograph bit in Kubrick’s version of The Shining influenced far more future filmmakers than it should have?), it’s impossible to care about any of it. When the “twist” ends up being no surprise whatsoever, you know that you’re in Middle-of-the-Road-Land, Population: Entity.