BUTTERFLY KISSES **** USA 2018 Dir: Erik Kristopher Myers. 91 mins
An unusually thoughtful and genuinely scary foray into found-footage territory, eerily framed by monochrome images of an ill-fated student whose senior film thesis provides the basis for the “found” footage in question. At the outset, she requests her tapes be shown to her parents while ominously adding “I don’t know how much longer I can go without blinking…” Filmmaker Gavin York’s in-laws find her mini DV tapes in a box marked “Don’t watch” in the basement of their house and sets out to make a documentary about her fate.
She investigated the urban legend of “Peeping Tom”, said to appear in front of anyone staring into Baltimore’s Bilchester Tunnel for an hour without blinking. By simulating an unblinking human viewpoint with her camera, Sophie seemed to unleash “Tom” into her own project. Writer-director Myers has crafted a skinny, top-hatted figure of fear existing somewhere between The Babadook and Slender Man, but understands the importance of keeping “Tom” hidden in the grainy corners of the black and white frames. The creepiest touches are relatively subtle (a recurring sound glitch on Sophie’s tapes that proves to be Morse Code for “Blink”) and the story is just as interested in deconstructing the “found footage” format itself. Assorted independent film directors, critics and tech experts appear in talking head interviews to question York’s integrity, analyse the “footage” itself and doubt the intentions of a project that has “been done a thousand times before”. In the most surprising touch, BLAIR WITCH co-director Ed Sanchez (also credited as “creative consultant”) appears to debunk York’s claims while also lamenting the marketing of his own famous movie as “real”. It’s a smart analysis of a format that refuses to die within the framework of a highly effective example of its type. Myers skilfully shifts perspectives and tone, the performances have a rare conviction and the denouement delivers one terrific jolt before a chilling coda that has its lineage in genre movies as far back as THE MAN WITH THE X RAY EYES.
Review by Steven West