CATSKILL PARK may sound like a trendy jazz club or the territory of a gang of biker cats with a bad attitude, but it is not. Instead, writer/director Vlad Yudin’s latest film is yet another found-footage horror flick to add onto the pile that toppled over years ago.
Primarily dealing in documentaries, CATSKILL PARK is a slight departure for Yudin, who this time around takes his documentary filmmaking skills and infuses them into a found-footage film about a group of friends who venture out for a camping trip at the “famed” Catskill Park, lead by reality-show producer Tom (Gregory Lay). Just hours into their trip though, Tom and his friends find themselves in the middle of what seems like an alien invasion, with nothing left for Tom to do but flip on the camera and make sure he records EVERY. DAMN. THING. Why you ask? Tom doesn’t have time for your silly questions!
Here’s the thing. Despite my snide remarks and what others may think, the found-footage genre is not dead, and is actually very much alive, with all sorts of styles and techniques left to explore in the sub-genre, as seen with films like Unfriended: Dark Web. The problem is, far too many of these films still employ the same tricks, often substituting story for “realism”. CATSKILL PARK fits into the latter category. Only that “realism” part is a bit of a stretch.
Yudin’s film opens with a familiar introduction, labelling itself as real “found footage” acquired by the military, which we are having the privilege of watching. Yes, we’re the lucky ones. From there, we’re introduced to Tom, a filmmaker, as he annoys everyone in his office with a camera. We get the sense that Tom has dreams of making it big with the success of his latest show, and needs another hit. We then find Tom driving with his girlfriend Monica (Melissa Haley Smith) to meet best friend, Ex (Alexander Cendese) and Ex’s friend with benefits, Sam (Lauren Francesca). And if you guessed that both Tom and Ex are kind of useless assholes, you’d be right! Ex is, unfortunately, an all-too-real portrayal of a D-bag who uses women and refers to everything he doesn’t like as “gay”, while Tom, though charming, is really kind of a selfish jerk who laughs with friends excitedly proclaiming they just roofied a girl. This is as deep as CATSKILL PARK ever gets with its characters because these people have a lot of frantic running around and hiding to do.
If you aren’t normally a fan of found-footage horror, then CATSKILL PARK is definitely not for you, because this film is nothing but the usual from the sub-genre. The camera buzzes and crackles with interference, and we’re subjected to a good amount of it swinging around wildly in the dark as unseen, CGI aliens chase after the cast. We’re unable to see so little of what’s actually going on, that you could probably just shut your eyes through half the film and not miss a thing. Yudin and cinematographer Jon Delgado do try something a little different with a light-weight bodycam that is able to hang off of Tom, giving a unique angle that we don’t often see in these films. Not that it makes the viewer any less nauseous.
If you can stomach the whipping and weaving of the camera, Yudin does manage to create some effective atmosphere. You probably won’t care much about the characters, or what’s going on, but some excellent sound design keeps CATSKILL PARK from falling too far below average. The alien sounds of these creatures are vicious and intimidating. By keeping them hidden throughout the entire film, you’ll be shaking in your winter boots wondering what the hell could be making that terrible sound. Along with the creature though, Yudin also introduces a second form of aliens, abductions, time loops, and a strange disease turning people into mindless zombies. Hell, there’s even a little Blair Witch-esque fuckery including ghostly voices of missing characters calling out through the woods, voices which we’re certain don’t belong to said character. That all sounds fun, but CATSKILL PARK has a difficult time juggling all of these different terrors, giving the film a feeling that’s about as scrambled as the brains of the diseased “zombies”.
If CATSKILL PARK was an alien that had abducted me in my sleep for a good old-fashioned anal probing, I might have asked for a magazine to calmly read during the procedure, because the film tickles the nerves so rarely. With surface level characters, an alien smorgasbord of undercooked ideas, and a storyline that feels as if we’ve seen it a thousand times before, there just isn’t that much that CATSKILL PARK has to offer, other than as a vomit aid with its dizzying camera movement. This film feels ten years too late in a sub-genre that’s already oversaturated as it is, without any ideas of its own to help it stand out.
Wait to abduct this one until its streaming.
CATSKILL PARK is now available on DVD and Blu-ray at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Target, Oldies, Movie Zyng, and Pricefalls, as well as VOD on Allin Media, DirecTV, Dish Network, Vubiquity, Amazon, FandangoNOW, Google Play, Hoopla, iTunes, Playstation, Vudu, XBox, and YouTube.