THE BEFORE TIME (2014)
Directed by Miguel Müller
‘Some things ought to stay buried’. So goes my attempt to paraphrase every horror movie made on the topic of Native American lore. In these films about nature, legends, and white guilt, the wealthy Americans typically follow in the footsteps of their ancestors. That’s until they wander a few steps too far! But then as the old soothsayers said, if it ain’t broke why fix it? So seems to be the motto of the latest found footage offering, a feature-length debut from director Miguel Müller, that does little to contradict the template.
Mimicking a TV documentary, The Before Time begins with a news report detailing what appears to be a ritualistic killing complete with decapitations etc., beside the Californian border. However, among the heads a single coin is found, that’s got more than a passing resemblance to the fabled Navajo gold. Naturally a sleazy producer, Daniel (Jonas), decides this is ripe grounds for a reality TV show. But not content with endangering his crew, by taking them to the scene of a mass murder, he decides to up the ante and bring a second. Enter ratings (and love) rivals Kimberley (Hartley) and Cate (Baker) to squabble over which one gets the big scoop. And with them, plus Native American cameraman Miguel (Arroyo), Daniel goes out in pursuit of viewers and golden-statuettes. However, en route, where he attempts to have a cameraman follow one of his hosts into the ladies’ room, an old man warns our protagonists of scares to come. Before vanishing. Cue digitalised peyote hallucinations, voices in the night and a frankly bizarre scene involving a stooge thug.
It’s not that the film’s all bad: it’s just boring. If you’ve seen many of these handheld horrors then the opening 40 minutes will be fairly familiar to you. Note that this may not necessarily be a bad thing in itself, since many of the slashers we’d now call classics rigorously follow their peers’ formula. Yet whilst the ‘golden era’ couldn’t be commended for its innovation it did birth a number of filmmakers all attempting to outdo each other. Here the scenes fall limp, feeling more like a tribute to prior pieces than a trumping. For long hauls nothing will surprise you, and what little does won’t mean much due to a combo of wooden acting (Hartley aside) and an unenergetic script. The characters don’t behave or act like real people, being painted in only the broadest of strokes. Whilst the backing story, holding it together, sounds more like something from the back of a Cowboys themed cereal box than a genuine story. It also doesn’t help that the spooky Natives, when we see them, will fill you with as much dread as the thought that Jim Davidson may be 2016’s next victim. Perhaps this mild tension may have had time to pick up were it not frequently destabilised by such a tonal hodge-podge that sees the few genuine character moments undermined by very heavy handed satire.
This is all a bit of a shame as there are some interesting, if highly austere, ideas. In the closing moments there really are some potentially scary moments, with competent jumps and a thick atmosphere. But then these plus points are the sorts of staples that you’d expect from anything with an interesting setting and a semi-competent sound team. Unfortunately, when commenting on modern found footages, I’m getting sick of saying it has a reasonable location and some scares in the third act, yet brings little else to the table. Consequently I’m aware these reviews are becoming as formulaic as the workman-like films they critique. Yet my write-ups respond to what I’m given, and as per The Unfolding (recently reviewed here) The Before Time simply isn’t good enough to rave about nor bad enough to hate. Rather it’s something that it’s hard to say much new about since it’s got little to distinguish it from the many other low budget movies with interesting settings and semi-competent sound teams. Thus, as with the film it’s based on, I’m going to end this one on a predictable note (the equivalent of somebody getting dragged away from the camera into darkness) and say indeed some things should stay buried. It’s just a shame this movie’s footage isn’t among them.