Polaroid

2019 | rated PG-13 | starring Kathryn Prescott | directed by Lars Klevberg | 1 hr 28 mins |

When the trailer for Polaroid debuted it looked like a cynical misbegotten parody of itself. Like something you would see in a TV show making fun of horror movies. Stephen King and the killer lamp book from Family Guy. As Blumehouse took over the trashy, cheapo, high-concept horror market,  Polaroid was pushed off the theatrical schedule and into oblivion. But a funny thing happened on the way to direct-to-streaming irrelevancy:  Child’s Play, the 2019 remake of a still-going franchise was surprisingly fun bringing new interest to director Lars Klevberg’s work. Now, partially by morbid can-it-be-that-bad curiosity and partially genuine interest in what Klevberg can again do with such creatively limited material, Polaroid snowballed into a must-see.

There is a wide chasm between what mainstream moviegoers will tolerate in horror movies. The bar is high, a horror movie has to be exceptionally genre-defying to break out (Get Out, Hereditary, Scream, Silence of the Lambs) otherwise it’s relegated with the rest of the trash (Truth or Dare, Shut in, The Bye Bye Man, The Boy, etc).  Polaroid occupies that vast middle ground of mid-budget, mediocre horror movies. A perfectly serviceable Dead Teenager horror flick hampered by it’s PG-13 rating and general slavishness to the genre, but elevated by a thought-out script that gets better as it goes as well as Klevberg’s eye for visuals.

The movie looks great actually. It looks like a David Fincher movie – dark, but crisp, ice cold and atmosphere heavy cinematography.  Like other mid-budget horror flicks Polaroid isn’t as satisfyingly well setup as Friend Request or as full-tilt wacky as  Happy Death Day 2U, but it has it’s moments – particularly in the fun third act – when it leans into craziness it should have tuned into the entire movie. Before that we get a lot of typical Dead Teenager horror tropes, with 1 dimensional characters fumbling around with fitting in, partying and figuring out the supernatural entity killing them off one by one. True to form we get the lone awkward girl who figures it out – Bird (Kathryn Prescott), a photography junkie who leans toward the vintage nature of the polaroid camera. It’s all a throwback to the J-horror explosion of the early 00s. The plot a liberal mix of Pulse, One Missed Call, Unfriended, Final Destination and a heavy dose of David F Sandberg’s Lights Out. 

True to form, all of this leads to an investigation into a past murder mystery: a mother, father, the daughter they are very protective of and the bullies that ridiculed her using – you guessed it – a camera. Mitch Pileggi plays town sheriff, the movies sole name actor, and guy who delivers that backstory.

Given all that, halfway through, Polaroid snaps itself awake. The murder mystery starts doubling over itself in interesting and unpredictable ways. Best of all the movie feels more thought-out then most studio horror films in trying to establish a set of rules for it’s ghost, then turning those rules around to deliver a fun final act. The third act of this movie is ridiculous fun. Why the ghost can morph it’s arm into a T-1000 blade and stab people through doors is as unclear as it is entertaining. The movie creates a half-baked set of rules where the ghost behaves like a photograph (developing in the dark), but pays that off well too.

The first half is a snoozefest, the characters are underdeveloped and the story is convoluted, but any movie that sets up a scenario where our final girl gets to literally duke it out with a ghost is ok by me.

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