It’s Saturday afternoon here. A good time to settle down with the family and enjoy a feel-good movie, perhaps? This probably isn’t one to watch with the kids…
In keeping with my threat to dig out more obscure films to recommend, here’s another grim little gem. I’m sure that, like me, you’ve seen more than your fair share of found footage movies. It’s a tired and overused format, but when it’s done right, it can be extremely effective. Case in point, EXHIBIT A. This is an uncomfortable recounting of the disintegration of a close-knit family in Yorkshire, told through the lens of a home camcorder.
Here’s a synopsis and trailer, followed by my thoughts.
The timely story of a normal family disintegrating under financial pressure, eventually driven to the unimaginable. We witness the terrifying events unfold through daughter Judith’s video camera, which subsequently becomes Exhibit A.Read more: Exhibit A
Over the years, I’ve found that the effectiveness of found footage movies often hinges on the plausibility of the set-up. That’s not to decry the importance of the script, the direction, or the performances, but if there’s no sensible reason for one of the characters to be holding onto a camera while they’re going through hell, it tends to undermine the movie. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT framed itself as a recovered documentary footage, for example, and in another successful example of the genre, BORDERLANDS (also known as FINAL PRAYER), we’re watching recordings made by a team investigating unusual happenings at a church. I must write about BORDERLANDS soon. It’s another cracker. At the other end of the scale, though, are films like CLOVERFIELD. Although entertaining, when the protagonists are clambering around on the top of a collapsing apartment block while an enormous monster destroys the immediate neighbourhood, I can’t help thinking ‘put the camera down, you jerk’, and that takes me straight out of the movie.
Back to EXHIBIT A. Here we have a young girl, Judith, with a video camera, using it to document the mundanity of family life (and to spy on the girl next-door, on whom she’s developed a crush). It’s a simple but effective device, allowing Judith to record and rewatch key parts of family life. But it’s not just Judith’s camera that’s important, it’s Judith herself. She’s not an observer documenting events from a distance, she’s a key player. We watch the horror unfold from her perspective, and that of the rest of her family trapped in a nightmare scenario together. There’s no escape from the camera’s unblinking eye.
As I usually do, I’m going to skirt around the detail because I’m recommending this film to you, not reviewing it. The performances are strong across the board and the direction and editing are top-notch, keeping events moving along at a good pace. There’s an inevitability to the story (and that’s not a criticism), which makes it all the more compelling. You know where it’s going (the clumsy DVD artwork is a heck of a giveaway), but the film draws you in and you can’t look away. The film was released in 2008 but, sadly, the themes and pressures which precipitate the family’s collapse – and in particular that of the father, Andy – are still all too resonant today.
I think one of the main reasons I enjoyed EXHIBIT A so much is because it does what I love best – it tells an extraordinary story through the eyes of a group of extremely ordinary people. As uncomfortable as it is, I can identify with aspects of Andy’s plight (though not his actions and behaviours), and you can imagine similar scenes playing out in living rooms up and down the country. It’s the normality of the background that gives the denouement it’s power. In some ways, the structure of the film is reminiscent of THREADS, in that the first third of the runtime is used to effectively convey the mundanity of everyday life before events transpire that destroy that world forever. Of course, there are no nuclear explosions in EXHIBIT A, just total destruction of a different, far more personal kind.
Thanks for reading.
Over the years I’ve recommended many films, books, and podcasts. You can find a full list of them here.
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