Release: Friday, January 31, 2014 (online)
I would like to just say how thrilled I am to be able to feature this review on Thomas J. I would additionally like to extend my thanks to Tiffany and everyone at The Upper Footage for providing me the opportunity to watch their film.
A chilling throwback to the handheld video phenomenon that was The Blair Witch Project, UPPER seamlessly blends elements of horror fiction with documentary-style reality, creating a one-of-a-kind film experience that demands to be seen no less (and perhaps no more) than one time through by as many pairs of eyes as possible.
If ever on the look-out for a film that goes above and beyond the call of duty in terms of delivering a gut-punch, the search is over once you’ve discovered Justin Cole’s visceral, raw found footage film, a claustrophobic 87 minutes that captures a night of partying gone horribly wrong in an uptown Manhattan loft apartment. In 2009 an 18-year-old female was last seen leaving a nightclub downtown before she overdosed on cocaine, leaving her newfound ‘friends’ to try and cover the whole thing up (the ‘whole thing’ being her corpse, of course).
The final product is an edited clip of some 390 minutes of recovered footage from the camera that was used in documenting literally everything from that evening. Aside from the occasional section that has been removed in post-production due to requests from the victim’s family, the film succeeds in finding a natural, chronological rhythm. In so doing, it invites the viewer to participate in a way few found footage films have been able to.
And oh how you participate. Begin in Blake Pennington’s penthouse in uptown Manhattan before making your way out to the streets in a fancy limousine with some of his obnoxious socialite friends Will Erixon (our trusted cameraman for the evening), Taylor Green and Devon Petrovsky. Indeed, identifying with these folks is one of the film’s greatest challenges, unless, of course, you find yourself comfortably nestled in with the one-percenters. It’s when we hit the streets that the journey undergoes a subtle transformation; where it truly begins gunning for horror territory.
Elite status doesn’t preclude one from acting like a savage brute. In fact, the argument Cole is offering here is that affluence so often can and does have great influence over how one’s able to maintain their innocence, when clearly they belong in the other camp. How factual information can so conveniently be tweaked and obscured in the age of the bizarre Buzzfeed blurb and LeBron James meme. Fact-checking goes out the window when celebrity status can be achieved just by posting a simple blog entry.
Given the group’s access to money, friends in high places, and a wealth of illicit drugs was this merely an inevitability that someone amongst them would fall into trouble? Whose fault is the young woman (named “Jackie”)’s cocaine overdose, really? Why are any of us at all surprised to learn that instead of contacting the proper authorities about the body, the majority votes to dispose of “Jackie”‘s body as quickly and quietly as possible?
A brutal and upsetting viewing experience, UPPER ought to be found guilty on several counts of being a brilliant concoction. While bearing hallmarks of a film that could become extremely unwatchable given how unlikable the individuals involved are, UPPER passes with flying colors in terms of providing a different kind of film viewing experience.
Recommendation: From someone who regularly resists found-footage films and many modern horror entries, I find that I cannot recommend UPPER enough. If possible, I’d like to over-recommend it. It simultaneously terrifies the general viewing public while condemning the actions of a privileged few who often take their status in life entirely for granted. Perhaps the greatest challenge of this review is leaving this bit for last: the kicker is that. . . . . . .
Running Time: 87 mins.
Quoted: “This is sick. That’s your boyfriend out there, the guy who is supposed to love you and care about you.”
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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com