Netflix Halloween 2014 : “Playback”

Posted: October 18, 2014 in movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Playback

At first glance — and second, and third, and fourth — it’s tempting to simply dismiss director/writer Michael A. Nickles’ 2012 indie horror Playback (now available, as per our rules for this month, on Netflix instant streaming) as another RinguThe Ring knock-off because — well, it is. That’s undeniable. But at least it has the fact that it’s an ambitious knock-off going for it, and that’s worth more than a little something around these parts.

Which isn’t to say that it’s necessarily a good one, mind you — but hey,  at least its chief flaw is in wanting to do more than it realistically can or should rather than in resting on its laurels and being satisfied with doing too little. Confused yet?  Fear not — so’s the movie.

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Here’s what you need to know, summed up in the most succinct terms : a high school kid named Julian (Johnny Pacar) is doing a report for his journalism class, together with his girlfriend Riley (Ambyr Childers),  on an infamous family massacre in his hometown that saw an adopted son kill his parents and sister, but all is not as cut-and-dried as it appears : it turns out, you see, that the unhappy adoptee was, in reality, a direct descendant of the guy who made the very first motion picture (yes, even before Edison), and that great-grandpa believed he could capture a person’s soul with his magical new invention, the movie camera. There’s  a string of suspicious deaths involving the  people attached to his film that seems to bear this at-first-glance-outlandish view out, as well as some scuttlebutt about a curse in the family being passed down from generation to generation. Julian seems strangely immersed in the project, and has even taken to spending a fair amount of time out at the farmhouse where the crime took place — but if you think he’s taking too personal an interest in the matter, wait until you meet his buddy, Quinn (Toby Hemingway), who seems downright possessed by the old film and, frankly, ins’t looking so healthy these days.

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Of course, that may have something to do with the fact that Quinn spends a bit too much time in front of screens in general. He works at a local TV station as a video archiver of some sort, and has a semi-lucrative side gig going hustling off hidden-camera footage he gets from teenage girls’ bedrooms, showers, locker rooms, etc. to a perverted middle-aged sheriff’s deputy (played by Christian Slater — who probably would have been a legend if he’d just had the decency to die young like James Dean and River Phoenix, but now finds himself stuck in second-fiddle roles like this one). To further complicate matters, our dirty-in-more-ways-than-one cop’s lieutenant (funny, I want aware that sheriff’s departments had lieutenants as a general rule — but then, I do try to keep my dealings with any and all law enforcement personnel to a minimum) just so happens to be Julian’s mom — and she’s been keeping one heck of a big secret about something else that happened when she was called to the scene of that family slaughter all those years ago.

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Throw in the fact that said slaughter was also committed to film, and that watching it seems to have a strange effect on viewers, and yeah — like I said, there’s a lot going on here. It’s all reasonably interesting in and of itself, but when combined into one story, it really does seem like a thick stew with maybe a few too many ingredients. The various individual storylines are each fairly compelling, the acting is fairly solid all the way around for a low-budget flick of this nature, and unlike (too) many of the films we’ve looked at so far in this little “Netflix Halloween” round-up there’s a nice amount of blood and guts in this one and it’s uniformly well-realized, but Playback allows itself to be pulled in too many different directions without firmly committing itself to any of them. It’s far from dull and hey, that’s a good thing, but shedding a couple of extraneous sub-plots would’ve resulted in a tighter, more focused movie.

I applaud director Nickles for giving it his all — but he should’ve stopped there, rather than going for too much.

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