I hope everyone had a happy Halloween. After watching a few horror movies including some from yesterday’s list of the Top 10 Modern Classic Halloween Films I had the pleasure of celebrating the holiday by being part of my local one-night viewing of a new Sony horror film called “Keep Watching” and naturally I decided to review it. It would be easy to write off this film for its star power alone with a slew of rising big names, and Ioan Gruffudd still trying to earn legitimacy, making up the cast thus making the movie seem like a quick attempt to force new actors down our throats. However “Keep Watching” brought with it an interesting premise that certainly had the potential to work and is the first movie in some time to truly dedicate itself to the found-footage style of shooting. So does it succeed? Well let me tell you what I think.
“Keep Watching” stars Bella Thorne, Ioan Gruffudd, Natalie Martinez, and “The Walking Dead’s” Chandler Riggs as a broken family who are terrorized by unknown assailants in the middle of the night. While the family was on vacation the antagonists broke into the house and installed numerous cameras in everyday devices and hidden locations throughout the home and on the night of attack use the different camera angles to broadcast the incident on the internet for their adoring fans. As the night progresses and the bodies pile up the family realizes that every detail, right down to the spot where the deaths occur, has been planned out and that there is no escape without fighting back and playing their assailant’s game of kill or be killed.
It’s a creepy enough premise that does admittedly embrace some cliches of past horror movies but adds some fresh concepts to the mix to spice things up. When you get down to it, “Keep Watching” is a middle of the road horror film that is actually exciting and entertaining as a story, but also feels a bit like a pandering mess built to establish the staying power of its rising stars. To give the film its due credit I’ll start with what I felt was pretty enjoyable about “Keep Watching” because it actually did end up being a very fun horror offering for a Halloween night special viewing event.
As a horror film with twists, turns, and a few great scares “Keep Watching” does work. It expertly adapts the found footage style of filmmaking and sticks to it from start to finish, justifying even the most unbelievable camera angles with the fact that the assailants have installed many cameras in strange locations to capture every bit of the action for their audience’s viewing pleasure. They even installed one on Chandler Riggs’ X-Box headset, giving them a camera that records the families journey through their home without being stationary. It’s actually pretty neat attention to detail. This created a great visual style that made me as the viewer feel like I was one of the people watching it on my computer, and kind of played on the deeper concept of the film that is driven by the audiences thrust for gore and death for entertainment. It did feel like I was getting a peak into a very private situation I shouldn’t be privy too and I even had some good old fashion “look out behind you” moments. This shooting style and the story itself kept me very fully engrossed and I seldom found myself bored even in the most blatant of establishing scenes before the action really kicks in.
The problem is despite the quality style of shooting and the story, the acting is just kind of alright. The script is bland, save for the cryptic monologues by the movie’s villains, and it really does feel like to some extent this film was made to try and push Bella Throne and Chandler Riggs specifically into the public eye and make them work on the big screen. Of course Thorne is a noted Disney star who has recently become somewhat of a modern scream queen (she was also featured in Netflix’s “The Babysitter”, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” and “Amityville: The Awakening”) while Riggs has been one of the most criticized and consistently disliked aspects of “The Walking Dead” as Carl Grimes. I wouldn’t blame anyone for walking out of this movie feeling a bit used because there are times it truly feels the only reason the movie was made was to showcase these two actors as potential superstars.
The problem is that if this film is supposed to convince us these stars are worthy of our praise it fails. They are by far the least enjoyable aspects of the film in my opinion and ironically they fail for different reasons. Thorne feels like she’s trying too hard and Riggs actually feels like he’s phoning it in. They’re just uninteresting, and somewhat cliché, performances that don’t stand out in any way and where “Keep Watching” would have been much better off allowing the chaos and fear of the unknown to control the action, instead its stars try to overpower the film itself, as odd as that might be to say, and maybe take the movie much more seriously than it was ever meant to be.
Going back to the positives “Keep Watching” for me was pretty creepy. I already explained how the found footage style worked, but there’s also the setup of someone equipping a home with cameras and planning out the events to meticulous detail with the intent of terrorizing you just for fun. It makes the villains compelling and makes the viewer ask a question every survival horror should draw, what would you do in this situation? To all the actors’ credits, even Thorne and Riggs, there is a legitimate sense of fear and chaos that permeates this film. It’s just as shocking and amazing for us as the audience to see what’s happening as it seems to be for the actors and if the film had just stuck with that simple shock value I think it could have been a very complete, even if imperfect, found footage project. It’s just a little too over the top.
All in all “Keep Watching” was a fun way to end my Halloween night. It’s not a perfect film, and honestly it didn’t have to be. It’s premise was intriguing, the filming style surprisingly works and is honestly pretty convincing, and it does have some neat fear driven moments and some great shock value. It’s just too bad that it also comes off as a pandering cash grab trying to make Bella Thorne and Chandler Riggs work. It’s pretty rare that a film comes along that in itself seems just right, but the actors are the ones who make it a little too over the top. Still I’d recommend “Keep Watching” if your into found footage or home invasion stories. It was a fun ride and might be the start of a pretty intriguing franchise if its handled well going forward. We’ll have to “keep watching” to find out right?….Right?….Alright bad pun….