Full disclosure: I am not a big fan of found footage films. I will admit to having been sucked in by the original viral marketing campaign of The Blair Witch Project. I’ll even admit to having enjoyed watching it for the first time in the theater with an audience. It was new. It was fresh. It contained some mystery and great atmosphere that lent the backstory credibility as well as the footage itself. It launched a horror subgenre. Regardless of whether you like The Blair Witch Project as a horror film, it’s next to impossible to deny its place in genre history.
That said, I only watched The Blair Witch Project one more time following its initial release. When a horror movie adequately captures my imagination, I will revisit it often, at least for a while, to see things I might have missed before. After my second theatrical viewing, the magic and mystery were gone from The Blair Witch Project for me. It’s not a film in which I can “find something new every time I watch it.” It’s not a film from which I enjoy quoting dialogue, nor is it a story that I care to psychologically dissect over again whenever I learn something that is new to me about human nature and culture. Consider all of the above to be my disclaimer before you read the rest of this review.
Writer/director Jed Brian’s Unlisted Owner (2013, Lawford County Productions) is a film that is very much inspired by and in the spirit of The Blair Witch Project. The story is different, naturally. Instead of featuring a team of young people who are making a documentary about a local legend, the main protagonists are a group of young people who, during a camping trip, are led by the nose into trespassing on a murder scene. Their leaders are two obnoxious “bro” characters who seem to be primarily motivated by their need to get laid and make mischief. Much of their screen time is spent screaming at their more emotionally mature, less bro-like buddy, who is intent on recording video of the entire experience because he’s received a new camera as a gift.
As the film progresses, we see the group of “friends” continuing to argue and shout at each other over trivial matters like setting up a tent and drinking beer. We’re also treated to quite a bit of yelling at each other while riding in a car, both on the way to the campsite and then, later, on the way to the house where five people were recently brutally murdered, and the sixth went missing. Tangential to all this character outline is a police interview with another friend of the group who seems to exist to only provide a bit of additionally extraneous backstory about the history of the house where the murders took place. When our protagonists finally trespass onto the crime scene later that night to investigate the premises, people start to disappear.
Even though I have a general distaste for found footage, Unlisted Owner has some quality points. First, where there are blood and guts effects, they are done well. The camera work manages to feel organic even without all the bouncing and jouncing that one gets from the kids running through the woods in The Blair Witch Project. Also, the very beginning of the film features footage from a teen girl who is recording her family’s move into what eventually becomes the crime scene. This point of the storytelling is compelling regarding both its style and the dialogue.
Unfortunately, the good points are not enough to salvage Unlisted Owner for me concerning a rewatch. With a runtime of an hour and a quarter, this film feels much, much longer. This is mostly a result of the constant obnoxious bickering between the two bros and the rest of the group of campers. Instead of becoming invested in the characters and whatever arc awaited them, these scenes just made me wish that the rest of the group would dump the bros and go see a movie or something. Why would they stick around and put up with the abuse? Moreover, the non-bros are continually informing the bros that they don’t want to go along with the bro mischief plans. Then, the next thing we know, they’re all in the car together. Why go along if you don’t want to? Ultimately, I didn’t care enough about the characters to care about what happened to each of them as they investigated the house.
Another issue that bothered me was the inclusion of the backstory guy who, first, informs the rest of the group about the history of the house and then ends up in police custody being interviewed about the disappearance of the rest of the group. There’s no reason for this character to be included. One of the camper group could have easily regurgitated the backstory if the backstory is essential to the plot. Also, we never see what happens to the backstory guy after his police interview. He disappears. The police interview also reveals the ending of Unlisted Owner long before we get anywhere near the end of the film.
If you’re a fan of found footage films and, in particular, a fan of The Blair Witch Project, it’s probable that you will enjoy Unlisted Owner as a good example of independent filmmaking in this specific subgenre. However, I feel like it would have been a much better film if it had invested the story into the family that was moving in at the beginning of the movie instead of the group of campers.