The genre of found footage horror film has become a pervasive way of making scary movies. While in the best cases, it’s a method of exposing the guts of the movie, attempting to use the acknowledgment of the medium itself to show the audience that there is no escape from the terror behind the camera. It’s also a way by which the viewer can literally see through the eyes of the protagonists, to become intimate with the film’s setting and actions. Yet, for more than a few films, the found footage style tries to take the place of a convincing narrative, insisting on veracity and a natural progression of events, even where there might be none. It’s a method of filmmaking that in its heyday was innovative and revealed a new way to terrify audiences, but has since become a crutch for many ultimately unsatisfying films. This is unfortunately the case for Black Water Vampire.
Black Water Vampire was released by RLJ entertainment earlier this year and is the prototypical story of a young documentary film crew that’s investigating a series of murdered women in the woods of a small and very religious town named Black Water. A strange hermit, Raymond Banks (played by the much loved B movie star Bill Oberst Jr.), has finally been convicted of the crimes, providing a brief peace to the townspeople. However, the director of the documentary, Danielle Mason (Danielle Lozeau), does not believe Raymond to be guilty and sets out to make a cinematic inquiry into the subject.
The film’s structure is remarkably similar to the seminal found footage masterpiece The Blair Witch Project. A young female filmmaker travels into the woods to unveil the truth behind a gruesome story, only to bring death and horror down on her and her unsuspecting film crew. The similarities between the two films, if meant as an homage, is an unfortunate one. The comparison only brings attention to Black Water Vampire’s faults as opposed to affecting a nod to a source of inspiration. For instance, the true terror of the Blair Witch Project is that the monster is forever lurking off screen, in the periphery, watching the doomed film cast mentally fray and emotionally deteriorate. We never see the witch’s Gorgon face, only its devastating effects. That lack of resolution keeps the audience from rationalizing the fear, making them deal with the manic horror of the unknown. In Black Water Vampire however, the face of the monster is on the cover of the DVD case. Whether it was the choice of the distributor, the producers, or whoever, it speaks to the film’s dependence on its monster. When it appears in the movie, all tension is immediately diffused and the film has to rely on a series of jump scares in the dark, a few of which must be admitted will likely spook the audience.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this movie is the immense potential it poses from the start. It begins with a handful of very tantalizing narrative thread. A monster in the woods that drains a woman of her blood every forty years. A wrongly convicted man who spouts government conspiracy theories and is falling apart from what appears to be lithium poisoning. A town, overlaid with ominous religious overtones and a hidden past of bloodshed. Danielle’s own conflicted religious beliefs that seem to be pulling her towards some dreadful purpose. The panic of being lost in a dark wood.
It’s all so promising, but whether from a misguided sense of subtly or an attempt to invoke the absurd, these threads never coalesce into anything meaty enough to take a bite out of. In the end, the audience is completely unaware of how or why they arrived at the film’s conclusion. Nothing is explained. The events of the film are left to speak for themselves, but they don’t say much to the audience or to themselves. This lack of internal narrative communication, in the end, leaves the film unsatisfying and resembling a mishmash of horror films like the aforementioned Blair Witch Project and Rosemary’s Baby. Yet, the film does manage to have tense moments, fleeing from an admittedly grotesque monster in the woods. There are some successfully emotional moments during the interviews with the victims parents that charge the movie, although that charge fades over time.
It’s a shame that Black Water Vampire didn’t step up to the plate a little more. It’s one of the few movies that tried to bring back the vampire as something vicious and lamprey-esque instead of the romanticized toothless version running amuck. It was also one of the first films to introduce the vampire to a feature length found-footage film. For a film with such honorable intentions, it unfortunately falls short.