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Featured DVD / Blu-ray Review: Playback

May 6th, 2012

Playback - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Playback is a horror film that opened in limited release in March. As I've said many times, horror films rarely do well in limited release. It also opened Video on Demand ahead of its theatrical release, so expectations were low at the box office. They weren't as low as $264. Is the movie really that bad? Or will fans of the genre find something worth checking out here?

The Movie

The film begins with Harlan Diehl filming at his crime scene. He killed his adoptive parents, severely beat his adoptive sister, and is doing something strange involving his video camera to his sister's infant child. He's interrupted by the cops, which gives his sister an opening to stab him, but he manages to kill her before being shot to death by the police.

Flash forward to the present day, and we meet Julian, a journalism student working on a film about the Harlan murders for his class project. He's got help from a few of his friends, including his girlfriend, Riley; her best friend, Brianna; Brianna's sister, DeeDee; and Nate, Brianna's boyfriend. He also has help from Quinn, who works in the archive of the local news station and has access to equipment he's willing to lone out. He's more than a little creepy (sniffing solvents does that to a person).

Filming isn't going so well (it took 30 takes to complete the one scene) so Julian asks Quinn if Quinn can look through the news archives for footage of the real crime scene to spice up his movie. He also invites Quinn to a party. He's not interested at first, until he learns its Brianna's party. He knows who she is, because he's been recording her in the girls changing room, along with every other female student at the high school. (I did mention he was creepy.) Although in his defense, he's recording them for someone else. While looking through the archival footage, Quinn sees Harlan's corpse being carried away on a stretcher, but when the camera pulls in, Harlan jumps up, but a fraction of a second later, the tape jams. When he puts the tape back in and watches again, not only does Harlan's corpse jump up, but it looks into Quinn's eyes and possesses him. Now he's creepy and possessed.

Julian continues to research his project, he beings to learn more about Harlan. His mother (Dorien Davies) is quite upset when he asks about it. She wants him to drop the project, because the town still hasn't healed from those murders, but that won't stop Julian. He learns that Harlan was related to Louis Le Prince, the inventor of the movie camera. He later learns from a co-worker at the video store, Wylie about the legend of Louis Le Prince and how some think that his invention steals souls. The legend further states that he used it to steal his own son's soul and put his soul within his son's body. Each generation one member of the family is possessed. Possessed? You mean like how Quinn is possessed?

That's enough of the plot. How is the movie? Well, on the positive side, I do like the setup. Granted, a lot of the film felt borrowed from another films (The Ring is the most obvious, but far from the only one). However, the setup still had potential, despite the 'borrowed' nature. Unfortunately, the script takes this potentially interesting setup and fails to take advantage of it. We spend most of the movie watching Julian investigating the crime and the legend behind it. This would be an asset adding more mystery than the teenage slasher genre normally has, but it is just dull. There's not enough mystery to fill up the time and too much of it is too obvious to surprise many people. The big reveal was telegraphed so far in advance that I thought it was a red herring. The script also doesn't give the actors a lot to work with, so the performances suffer as well. The acting ranges from uninspired to distracting. Most of the characters are just one-note clich├ęs that we don't care about and are just on the screen waiting to die. When the deaths do occur, there are some good effects, but they are not inventive nor are they particularly shocking. (Getting shot is the number one cause of death in the movie.) It's not going to satisfy gorehounds, that's for sure. At least the film doesn't look cheap. It cost $7.5 million, so at least it was competently put together, but there's not a lot of style to rescue it either.

"Competently put together." If that's not damning it with faint praise, I don't know what would be.

The Extras

The only extras on the DVD are a behind-the-scenes featurette and a HDNET: A Look At featurette. I don't have the Blu-ray to compare.

The Verdict

Playback is a mess starting from the script, continuing to the directing and ending with the acting. There's not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, but no amount of extras would lift this to a rental. It's just too dull to sit through.

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Filed under: Video Review, Playback