With a story and screenplay as well as directing from Bryan Bertino (The Strangers), Mockingbird got my attention by sticking a clown on its DVD cover, something that isn’t often the stamp of quality, but manages to make me say “oh look, a clown-horror flick”. I am a fan of The Strangers, Bertino’s 2008 slasher movie with Liv Tyler. A film that many didn’t get on with, I enjoyed it for what it was, a dark, creepy home invasion horror with a good tension to it. So, I was open to Mockingbird for that reason, and that reason alone.
Immediately we enter “found-footage” land, a place I’ve spent way too much time as a horror fan over the last couple of years. A genre that is dripping wet with saturation from predominantly mediocre titles that use the same cheap tricks and tactics to attempt to elicit a scare or two, but ultimately, usually, fail. Found-footage wise, films like The Blair Witch Project and REC have truly worked and in 2014, only The Den (Zachary Donohue) pleasantly surprised me, so it wasn’t something I was especially happy about, finding myself looking through a camcorder lens, with a narrating character behind it, yet again.
Mockingbird isn’t a deep or difficult plot to describe. It’s basically the tale of four people (The Family, The Woman and The Clown) who are given a video-camera along with some instructions. They initially believe that they have the cameras because they have won some sort of competition, but they, obviously, are mistaken, with more sinister and macabre reasons for the cameras they now find themselves in possession of. They cannot switch the cameras off, and things begin to go bash, bang and bump in the night. Basically, the plot is that these people accept a free video camera, and must keep filming, or DIE! Spooky, huh?
The premise, initially, was interesting enough for me to stay watching. I don’t judge things too quickly because sometimes, not often, but sometimes things surprise me and turn out to be little diamonds that I hadn’t expected them to be. Mockingbird begins in a positive manner, offering a possible hook that has potential to lead to some big creepy pay-off, but, as is fairly regular with these types of things, it doesn’t last, and things don’t pan out. Potential isn’t met, scares aren’t realized and the plot, once slightly intriguing, falls flat on its face and fizzles out like a silent fart in a bathtub. The characters are dim-witted and make terrible decisions throughout the movie. Now, I’ve seen more than my fair share of horror flicks, I know that horror characters are one plastic spork short of a full picnic hamper, but there are times when a little bit of brains would go a long way into making me feel like I wasn’t just watching an annoying and badly written group of one dimensional horror clichés. Barak Hardley as Leonard was the more interesting of the characters, though his performance ranged from okay at times to just plain irritating and over-the-top, something that is never a good thing when it’s so easy to switch things “off”.
Now, I will say that there were a couple of moments when I thought the creepiness worked, and had it kept up it might have made me appreciate the movie more than I did, but it is very predictable and seems to try to be unique and obscure while actually turning out to be basic and uninspired. The anti-climactic ending, along with the tedious 80% of the movie itself, made it a hard one to enjoy, and an easy one to write-off. It isn’t the worst horror movie I’ve seen this year (I saw some real stinkers around horror festival season in the summer) but it is certainly among the list of them. It’s a shame, I liked the directors previous film and have stuck up for it against people who wrote it off as a disappointing and lacking film, but I can’t (and won’t) stand up for this one. Terrible.