UK Release Date: 5th March 2018
Runtime: 86 minutes
Director: Sean Carter
Writer: Joseph Dembner
Starring: Bella Thorne, Ioan Gruffudd, Natalie Martinez, Chandler Riggs, Leigh Whannell, Matthew Willig
Synopsis: A family finds itself under siege from masked intruders, who want to kill them off one by one for a live audience watching on the internet.
In the world of Black Mirror, there’s something of a higher bar for the kind of one-shot horror concepts that have filled the direct-to-DVD/VOD market for years. Keep Watching, from debut feature director Sean Carter, initially sounds like a movie that could meet that bar as a result of its neat premise, which sees a strange death cult subjecting families to a game-like killing spree for an audience of millions watching online. The concept is about all the film has, though, and it soon devolves into a mess of poor craft and storytelling that never reaches its enviable potential.
The central role of Jamie is that of the prototypical final girl, portrayed here by Bella Thorne as a woman who feels like her stepmom (Natalie Martinez) is “trying to ruin my life” and worries about banal teenage things like whether her boyfriend will stay with her “like, past senior year”. She and her brother (Chandler Riggs) return home with their father (Ioan Gruffudd) after a vacation and, after the arrival of their uncle Matt (Leigh Whannell), masked intruders begin picking off members of the family one at a time.
The first thing we see in Keep Watching is footage of news stations covering the murder of a previous family, with vox pops from teenagers shocked that the grisly scenes they were watching on their screens were actually happening to real people. That idea is promptly abandoned for a conventional and bland home invasion setup, albeit one where there are literally dozens of hidden cameras dotted around the house beforehand, allowing for a randomly assembled montage of poorly shot chase sequences. The notion of ‘found footage’ does not allow for shoddy cinematic craft, though it seems that’s the deluded misapprehension of the filmmakers here.
Thorne is actually a decent enough horror protagonist, bringing believability and fun to a fairly stock moody teenager. She’s certainly more entertaining than a phoned-in Leigh Whannell and a Ioan Gruffudd performance so bland he seems to fade into the background every time he’s on screen. Gruffudd also gets one of the movie’s many under-worked subplots, with the early revelation that he owes thousands of dollars seemingly existing in a completely different universe to the movie’s narrative. A thread about Thorne fearing she is pregnant gets similarly short shrift.
Keep Watching is simply a haphazard mess that never quite commits to the nastiness of its core idea and never really engages with the concept that gives it its title. A half-baked third act twist that is obvious from fairly early on brings that concept back into focus, but it leads to a head-scratcher of a finale that doesn’t quite make its intentions clear.
Nothing on the disc I had for review.
Pop or Poop?
Keep Watching is a high-concept horror movie that takes a big swing and a miss as a result of its desire to tell a simple home invasion tale while also reaching for thematic resonance. The lead performance from Bella Thorne is the only oasis of okay in what is otherwise a bland, poorly-lensed adventure.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Keep Watching is available on DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.