I missed last weekend's premiere release of Paranormal Activity 4, but I did have the time to watch another kind of "found footage" movie called Skew, which was written and directed by Sevé Schelenz and has won a few awards on the indie film circuit. Read on for my complete review.
Skew is about three friends--Simon (Rob Scattergood), Rich (Richard Olak) and Eva (Amber Lewis)--who go on a cross-country road trip to a friend's wedding. Simon brings along a video camera to record the trip and their numerous stops at gaudy tourist attractions. As the journey progresses, the camera starts to exhibit peculiar quirks: distorting sounds, skipping video frames, turning on by itself, blurring people's faces, and seeing things that aren't really there. Is the camera acting as a window into the supernatural, or is it providing clues to the characters about their ultimate fates?
Even though it has the look and feel of a found footage film, Skew isn't actually a found footage film because the footage you see is never "found". Instead, the film is shot in such a way that requires you see the story strictly through the camera's lens, both when Simon is using the camera and whenever the camera turns itself on. (Hint: Rich and Eva don't see the exact same things that Simon does when they look through the camera's viewfinder.)
Another significant difference is how and when the footage is shot. In many found footage movies, much of the footage is out of focus or shot in the dark in order to establish and maintain the moods of mystery and suspense; on the other hand, Skew is shot mostly during the day with ample amounts of sunlight. Such brightness provides its own sort of unease, particularly when it calls attention to the camera's odd behavior and the strange events it allows Simon to witnesses. Whenever the camera turns itself on, it is usually facing something other than the characters but you can eavesdrop on what the characters are saying; these scenes of disjointed voyeurism add to film's prevailing atmosphere of confusion and dread.
Skew is essentially a ghost story, although it is not the kind like The Haunting (1963) and Poltergeist (1982) where ghosts are the central point that moves the plot forward. The movie is more like The Devil's Backbone (2001) and Head Trauma (2006), movies where supernatural beings and paranormal occurrences coexist alongside the living as a sort of warped reflection of reality. To be more specific, Skew tells the story of what happens when a supernatural phenomenon enters the life of someone whose sanity is already beginning to unravel.
An anonymous specter ... or a familiar face?
With its unique approach to the found footage genre and its clever use of the supernatural as a backdrop for a character-driven drama, I found myself thinking about Skew long after the final credits rolled. Even though it was clear from Skew's style that its ending would be a grim one, I could not guess how the story of Simon, Rich and Eva was going to end as I was watching it. There are some points in the movie where the dialog feels scripted, but it's not enough to detract from the overall narrative.
Skew may frustrate viewers because it deliberately obscures some of its key plot points. There's a connection between the blurred faces and the ghosts that appear through the camera, as there is a significance to when a person is viewed for the first time through the camera's lens and when a person's face becomes blurred. Unfortunately, these narrative rules are not applied clearly or consistently, resulting in two off-screen deaths--and possibly a third--that are heavily inferred but never explicitly confirmed, as well as a final image before the end credits that's more baffling than it is revealing. There's also an awkward subplot involving a police officer; even though the subplot provides a tense interrogation scene that reveals important information, it leads up to a character death that's far too contrived and improbable to be shocking.
If you already despise the found footage subgenre of horror cinema, Skew isn't going to change your mind. Yet if you're willing to try something that takes a fresh (and somewhat flawed) approach to the subjective horrors that can be witnessed through a home video camera, Skew is worth your time. Skew is currently unavailable on DVD or Blu-ray, but you can probably watch it on demand on various video sites around the Internet.