Last July, Rob Savage created one of the first pandemic-related horrors when he released Host, a film developed while everyone was quarantining. The movie generated suspense, and also demonstrated creators can still perform their art when in quarantine. After the release of the film, I was surprised because I assumed other people would quickly jump on the Zoomovie (Zoom + Movie) fad and we would see several other homemade-horrors. However, not until almost a year later did we get another taste of horror Zoom, with writer and director Nick Simon’s UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE (or UHM for short). And even though Host and Simon’s new release hold quite a few similarities, Savage’s film went the spooky route, while UHM will take a slightly more humorous approach. And with stars from such shows as “Arrow”, “Shadowhunters”, and “The Umbrella Academy” needing a creative outlet, Simon found the perfect cast to make his horror-comedy.
Immediately the film starts with shaky cameras and extreme selfie-close-ups as we are in the midst of a found footage escape as the young blonde Chrissy (Katherine McNamara) gets chased through her house by a thudding and unseen entity. As she leaves a tearful goodbye, the evil closes in on her. The story then switches to an equally scared Max (Darren Barnet) also trapped and hunted in his upper-middle class home. And with his demise we get yet another glimpse into a darkened home with the introduction of Alex (Emmy Raver-Lampman), only to have our third victim break the fourth wall and reveal to the viewer we are witnessing a film inside of a film. All new horror comes with a hint of meta-ness because it is hard to film a horror movie without the characters referencing the fact that they might be in a horror movie, and UHM is no exception. The director trained under the infamous Wes Craven who helped popularize tongue-in-cheek horror with the wise-cracking Freddy Krueger, along with the meta qualities of both the Scream and NoES film series. Now, I am in no way comparing UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE to Craven’s work, but the film definitely displays a bit of the familiar Craven flavor.
After the cold opening, Chrissy, Alex, and Max, along with their director Kip (Timothy Granaderos), and co-stars Kelly (Claire Holt) and Declan (Luke Baines) all gather on Zoom to discuss their recent dilemma: unemployment. The show they all worked for got canceled, so as a way to earn an income, they collectively reach the decision to make a horror film using their phones and computers to film their individual scenes. UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE never mentions a pandemic and instead uses the excuse of “summer hours” to explain why all interactions must occur via a Zoom-type platform. During the filming, pandemic regulations were followed, which makes the great chemistry of the cast even more commendable considering none of them were ever in the same room.
In the first twenty minutes or so, the film struggles to find its voice, and the reason the characters need to make a horror movie comes together in a fairly forced manner. Unsure of who to cast in which role, Kip asks everyone to read the same part. And aside from the opening segment, we also see a montage of all the characters performing a possession scene in which they practice acting scared or expressing their exasperation for the script. These sequences drag on a bit and the repetitiveness of the lines also gets tiresome. However, seeing everyone playing the same part allows for better insight into these delightfully flawed characters.
And, even though some might find the beginning a bit cringeworthy, this film sneaks up on you. While brainstorming ideas to improve Kip’s haphazard script, the cast accidentally summons a demon (like you do) during their online meeting. So, if at first, you find yourself not caring about the characters or find the pacing slow, then just wait! Once the demon starts slapping people around, you will find yourself invested. Either you root for the next kill, or you prioritize the mystery and want to see how they stop the ghost. Most of all, the self-production should at least hold your curiosity because each person on “set” took charge of their own make-up, lighting, and cinematography. Pandemic rules were observed during the making of UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE, so you witness a truly collaborative piece.
Host did it first and approached the concept from a much spookier angle, so some viewers might come into UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE with the attitude of “Host did it better,” but put aside these thoughts and let Simon’s movie stand on its own. And, despite Host premiering well before, both films actually were in production at the same time, so you can also quell your accusations of UHM being a copycat. Think of the film more as a parody, and the characters as your obnoxious friends, and you will enjoy your viewing experience.
UNTITLED HORROR MOVIE premieres at a special live streaming event on June 12th and will be coming to iTunes and Amazon on June 15th.