"Another one of THESE?!?" is how the horror fans are starting to feel about the whole "found footage" conceit, but as a guy who A) likes the style of filmmaking, and B) predicted a while ago that "horror verite" is here to stay, I'm starting to look forward to each new offering. Last week we were subjected to Apartment 143 (meh) and Area 407 (super awful), and now comes another low-budget horror tale that delivers its goods exclusively through handheld (and hidden) video cameras. Already you're having visions of Paranormal Activity or The Blair Witch Project or [REC], but the creative little flick known as 388 Arletta Avenue has a pretty novel idea up its devious sleeve.
In most of the found footage horror flicks we've seen, the cameras belong to the protagonists (heroes, victims, whatever), and those cameras (of course) capture all the various horrors while the camera holders flee for their lives. 388 Arletta Avenue has a different idea: what if the cameras actually belong to the villain, and what if our victimized young couple doesn't even know they're being filmed? It's sort of a flip-flop on the most frequently-employed found footage hook, and it works rather well. Here we're asked to peep in on a young couple, to stare at their miseries without their knowledge, and this raises the suspense level in strong but subtle fashion. Who among us isn't scared of being filmed, without our knowledge, in our most personal moments?
In a nutshell, all you need to know is that the home of our central couple (Nick Stahl and Mia Kirshner, both solid) has been invaded by a stranger, and all he has left behind is an array of audio-visual recording devices. Positioned in strategic places (even in the car!), the numerous cameras manage to capture just enough exposition to keep us informed, and then the noose starts to tighten: who has planted these cameras? Does this unremarkable young couple have some dark secrets to hide? And then, once our hero (?) discovers the game, a whole new set of questions arise. (Devon Sawa pops up as a possible suspect, and a Canadian actress named Krista Bridges adds some nice edge as an estranged sister-in-law.)
Well-paced (a bit slow at the start so you'll get used to the visual style, but gradually more interesting as it goes on), cleverly shot, especially for a "gimmick" movie, and bolstered by a few compelling ideas about the nature of kindness and the importance of forgiveness, 388 Arletta Avenue is a strange and confident effort from writer/director Randall Cole. At a brisk 84 minutes and packing some legitimately creepy moments, this one's a quiet little winner. Best of all, it's evidence that there are still several ways to make "found footage horror" interesting. It starts by having a fresh angle.