Playback Movie Review
Directed by Michael A. Nickles
Written by Michael A Nickles
2012, 98 minutes, rated 15
DVD released on 16 July 2012
Johnny Pacar as Julian Miller
Toby Hemingway as Quinn
Ambyr Childers as Riley
Jennifer Missoni as DeeDee Baker
Jonathan Keltz as Nate
Christian Slater as Frank Lyons
It says a lot for the quality of a movie's cast when Christian Slater is the only recognisable name on board. As with most of his output these days, Slater is hardly in the film, appearing in only a few scenes to look sinister and sleazily spy upon girls through a hidden camera.
He plays local cop Frank Lyons, who is inadvertently responsible for unleashing violent supernatural terror when he hands over a crime tape to a troubled young lad called Quinn and his aspiring filmmaker friend. Quinn becomes possessed by an evil entity that uses videotapes to hop into the souls of the living. Quinn sets about murdering and kidnapping his friends, with a mind to becoming fully 'reborn'. What follows is like Fallen crossed with The Ring but with the quality level of FeardotCom. It says even more about the film's merits that Christian Slater is one of the best things about it.
The man these days seems to make a living by playing bit-parts in straight to DVD horror movies, ranging from the terrible (Alone in the Dark) to the competent (Hollow Man II) through to incredibly bizarre (Rites of Passage, in which he plays a violent schizophrenic weed farmer) with no room in-between for anything good. To date, the best thing he's done since True Romance is an episode of My Name Is Earl. His performance here is as indistinct as ever (he's so laid back in everything I usually forget he's even there) although his character is enjoyably sleazy. Beware the IMDb synopsis, which informs us that Playback is about a cop investigating the case of a missing teen. Detective Frank Lyons does not investigate anything (unless you call the sourcing of one's pornography an 'investigation') nor does he contribute anything to the film other than one cool scene towards the end and a (semi) big name to slap onto the marketing.
Popping the DVD in the player without knowing anything about it (not even that Slater was in it), I expected to see yet another boring found footage horror movie. In a sense, Playback is exactly that – it's about teenagers who find some footage, spurring terrible things to happen. The film actually opens with a bit of cinema verite, depicting the very violent murder of a family. Ironically, that which I had been dreading the most emerged to be Playback's most memorable scene. As it unfolded, I thought I was about to see a genuinely impressive found footage horror movie. Not so, in either sense.
The story is convoluted and silly, hovering over an arbitary line between supernatural horror and serial killer thriller. While it is creepy at times, the central mystery isn't compelling enough to hook the viewer for long and the kill sequences largely fail to amuse. The climax is far too dark (in the “oh, turn a light on” sense, although it is tonally dark too) with much of it being set in a pitch black basement, Ambyr Childers’ distress audible but not visible. All one can see during these scenes is a shiny little silver swatch (the duct tape on Childers' mouth) hanging mid-air in the dark.
Slater and the young cast do well though, particularly Toby Hemmingway as the possessed Quinn. The pretty young things make Playback feel like a Wes Craven movie, as does the characterisation. Filmmaker Julian has something of Scream's Randy about him, while Slater's stoned drawl makes me think that he'd have made a great Deputy Dewey. If only the film had bothered with some of Scream's wit and humour – instead it feels more like the more recent Craven misfire My Soul To Take.
Ultimately dull and forgettable, it's unlikely that this film will be getting Playback anytime soon.
Video, Audio and Special Features:
Video, audio and special features will not be graded as this was a screener.