As I’ve said many times before, I enjoy the found-footage-format film. I know many folks who hate it or have long ago tired from it, but I’ll mention again what I’ve highlighted before: I think the construct remains useful so long as the footage found (and obviously culled together by an editor) serves the narrative and (better yet) serves the characters. Yes – like many of you – I’ve seen films that didn’t quite use the technique effectively or relied on it much too strongly to produce whatever emotional impact even good acting could’ve done on its own; in those cases, I’d agree that less trickery probably would’ve made for a better film.
For all its merits, INFLICTION is one of those where I honestly could’ve gone either way. It works effectively by being constructed the way it was (with far more digital camcorders than I would’ve ever imagined); but I can see how the dramatic dynamic could’ve been increased with less theatrics and more raw emotion.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Feature film director Jack Thomas Smith’s current project he calls ‘Infliction’ is the actual assembled footage taken from the cameras belonging to two brothers, who documented a murder spree in North Carolina in 2011. The footage reveals in disturbing detail their actions and motives. It documents the effects of people’s actions or inactions and its long-term consequences on other’s lives.”
As a found-footage vehicle, INFLICTION is most effective and putting the audience in the middle of a dire situation – one that clearly smacks of impending doom – and letting it play out in all of its bloody, horrific detail. This isn’t to say that the film either glorifies or revels in the excesses of violence because I don’t think that’s accurate. I think it tries to take an extraordinary situation – one involving the vicious upbringing of three children – and then attempts to put a somewhat ‘ordinary’ spin on the resulting carnage by capturing it home-movie-style. (I could be wrong, and I have been before.) Where it’s least effective, however, might become the picture’s Achilles Heel where other viewers are concerned.
For example, there’s a pivotal scene about midway through the picture wherein one brother begins to question the who, what, where, when, and (ultimately) why of doing this project. (Keep in mind – and I’m trying very hard not to spoil anything crucial to the ending – that there is a bona fide reason within the realm of possibilities for the young men to be committing these crimes and filming them, but that won’t be disclosed until very late in the film.) They confront one another and throw questions and explanations at one another, and – for part of this sequence – they’re still both very obviously committed to the project.
How do we know?
Well, they’re still holding the cameras pointed at one another. Despite being a nifty device to film the conflict, most of the scene just didn’t play out as emotionally authentic to me. There’s one piece wherein a camera lying on the ground is capturing their arguments; and – while that bit might prove more acceptable – I’d almost argue that the trickery of keeping everything ‘found footage’ really killed what probably would’ve been a stronger, more impactful scene had it been shot conventionally in-camera.
Granted, this one little change would’ve required a suspension of that barrier already erected because of the chosen format. But there’s something to be said for finding more creative ways to ‘mix it up’ if filmmakers are going to continue to push the bounds of story convention. As the scene plays out, it works (as I hope I was clear) … it just doesn’t feel all that ‘honest’ to this viewer.
INFLICTION (2013) is produced by Fox Trail Productions. DVD distribution is being handled by Virgil Films. As for the technical specifications, this is one of those ‘found-footage-films’ so one can expect much of the same cinematography seen in similar-produced efforts; the sound remains pretty good consistently, though there were a few small sequences a bit muddled. Lastly – if it’s special features you want – then sit still because after the credits there’s an interesting music video (from Purple Pam & The Flesh Eaters) that retells the story in a visually interesting way.
RECOMMENDED. The chief complaint I had with INFLICTION is that it didn’t need to be a found-footage-film (and I say that even though I freely admit I love that sub-genre). In fact, I’d argue that – even though writer/director Jack Thomas Smith serves up what he believes come the conclusion is a strong thematic reason for all of this to be found footage – I think the story itself could’ve been stronger with much lesser focus on maintaining that narrative technique. Why? Well, the picture has a few great scenes with these two young leads arguing with each other, and I found their insistence on holding the cameras through those sequences entirely a theatrical convention and not at all emotionally real.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Virgil Films provided me with a DVD copy of INFLICTION by request for the expressed purpose of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.