THE LOST FOOTAGE OF LEAH SULLIVAN *** USA 2018 Dir: Burt Grinstead. 85 mins
As the title suggests, this purports to be unedited footage shot by journalism student Leah Sullivan (Anna Stromberg) and found by a mystery third party whose title cards open the film: we assume they also added the usual dissonant, spooky sound design propping up found footage horror. Fixated on an unsolved family massacre in Lutton, Massachusetts, Leah is joined by a local cop (played by writer / director Burt Grinstead) for a series of on-camera interviews with residents. Locals, including Leah’s own aunt, speculate on what really happened and suggest everything from police cover-ups to aliens, squirrels and a zombie lumberjack. Largely consisting of creepy / mental testimonies from possibly unreliable “witnesses”, the build up doesn’t err far from the found footage chiller format most influentially adopted by THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Early on there is a nicely self-conscious joke about self-involved found footage protagonists who keep on filming regardless, as Leah almost mows down a local woman while fiddling with her constant camera companion. Grinstead knows how to work the formula: there is a sense of lurking malevolence as characters glimpse figures in windows and the audience becomes aware of Something in the background of a frame that no one else acknowledges. The vox pops throw out some disquieting details. The finale offers the expected climactic exploration of the Bad House and standard cry of “are you still filming?” but the final 15 minutes are genuinely scary, the inevitable venture into almost total darkness revealing disturbing graffiti spelling doom, glimpses of scary faces and one excellent bonafide fright. It refreshingly avoids showing too much and over-indulging in the cheaper scares. With more likeable protagonists than the sub-genre typically offers, the well-crafted LEAH SULLIVAN gets a familiar job done with an understanding of the strengths of its strongest forebears.
Review by Steven West