(By Matt Konopka) Ever feel that tickle in your eyes? You know, the kind of tickle that makes your eyelids flutter and gives you that irresistible urge to blink? What if I told you that it wasn’t just dust in your eye, but a supernatural being trying to get you to blink one last time before it ripped out your soul? Butterfly Kisses is the film that has ruined blinking for me forever…
…Written/directed by Erik Kristopher Myers (Roulette), Butterfly Kisses tells the story of Gavin York (Seth Adam Kallick) a struggling filmmaker who discovers a box of tapes in his parent’s new home. The tapes depict a pair of two students, Sophia (Rachel Armiger) and Feldman (Reed Delisle), who are making a disturbing documentary on a supernatural local legend, Peeping Tom. Setting out to prove the tapes are real and release the documentary as a work of his own, Gavin and the crew documenting his exploits soon discover that Peeping Tom may be more than just a legend after all.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the found footage genre has become that grandparent at the Thanksgiving table, talking about “the good ole days”, and how great things were for them then. Well, it’s not “the good ole days” anymore, and found footage has become less and less popular since it hit its high point in the 2000s. That being said, Myers pulls off the impossible by making Butterfly Kisses one of the most relevant found footage horror films to date. Why, you ask? Because Myers presents the most unique commentary on the found footage genre itself that I’ve ever seen.
Consider this: We essentially have three different stories being told here. Sophia and Feldman’s project, their discovery of Peeping Tom, and their unfortunate descent into madness and terror. Then we have Gavin, caught in a struggle between making the missing students’ footage into a film while sacrificing his home life. And finally, there is the documentary crew which is following Gavin throughout the process, so that they can make their own film about the failures of Gavin, because no one believes he actually found this footage, and instead made it himself. It’s a fascinating concept, because it poses a key question that we never really think of as viewers, which is this: if you ever actually stumbled upon REAL “found footage” which displayed unexplainable events, would anyone in this day and age believe you? It’s been almost twenty years since The Blair Witch Project fooled audiences with its genius marketing campaign. No one would think you were telling the truth now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag. In fact, there is even a moment where Eduardo Sanchez, one of the directors of The Blair Witch Project, makes an appearance as himself to discuss the evidence that the footage found by Gavin is fake, providing a clever analysis that wannabe horror filmmakers would do well to take notes on.
In that sense, Myers achieves an impossible feat with Butterfly Kisses: he almost, just almost, convinces the viewer into believing this is real. Of course, anyone in their right mind is not going to believe that footage of a supernatural entity hunting two college students is real, but Myers does everything he can to trick the audience into believing, if only for a second, that Gavin is indeed, a real person. I mean come on, if you go onto the film’s IMDB page, Gavin is even listed as being played by “himself”. If that’s not commitment to the prank, I don’t know what is. But by having so many in the film question Gavin and his footage, the thought of whether or not this really happened fluttered through my head now and then, even though I knew that everything here was fake.
While much of the credit goes to Myers for his concept, Kallick deserves plenty of praise for his portrayal of Gavin. Kallick is so effective as Gavin, that it’s impossible to not think for a moment that Gavin could, maybe, be a real person. Kallick perfectly captures a down on his luck filmmaker, tired of shooting wedding videos and desperately searching for that one last chance to make it big. As someone who has fought for that kind of success myself, I can tell you that the combination of exhaustion, excitement, hair-tearing frustration, and fear can be absolutely crushing when things don’t go well (often the case), and Kallick expresses each phase of the process so on point that his character is devastatingly relatable to those like myself, or anyone who has dreamed big, really. I can’t know the extent that Myers has felt those same struggles, but if I had to guess, a lot of what Gavin goes through in trying to get someone, anyone, to back him up on his film are the same trials which Myers has experienced as well, because it’s all on screen for us to see.
Part of the brilliance of Butterfly Kisses is how well Myers constructs the mythology behind Peeping Tom. He does everything right, from providing multiple interviews with all types of people who believe in the entity, to a background behind the character, and even a “game” performed at an eerie train tunnel where Peeping Tom is said to appear, not unlike the chanting of “Bloody Mary” into a mirror performed at sleepovers as a dare. In this case, the “game” involves staring down the tunnel for exactly one hour. I can’t go five minutes without blinking, so while that may seem like I have a better chance of John fucking Carpenter phoning me up right now and saying he wants to produce my next movie, funny enough, its exactly what makes the legend seem so possible, because you can imagine that if, IF, someone somehow managed to do the unimaginable like that, why couldn’t it catch the attention of a sinister ghost? As they say, stranger things have happened.
By effectively reeling the viewer in with endearing characters and a fascinating concept, Myers sets the stage for the ultimate goal of Butterfly Kisses, which is, obviously, to scare the crap out of you. Butterfly Kisses isn’t the Paranormal Activity franchise, with jump scare after jump scare after jump scare. There are some, but Butterfly Kisses takes a more intelligent approach to the horror, taking its sweet, sweet time to pull you in deeper and deeper into the mythos until your eyes are glued to the screen, and you don’t want to blink in fear of missing a thing. Reminiscent of one of my favorite Doctor Who villains, the weeping angels, there is something extremely unnerving about an entity which, after you’ve caught its attention, moves closer and closer to you each time you blink, until finally, you’re one blink away from certain death. Things start off casually enough, as the college students begin noticing Peeping Tom on their footage, far off in the distance, watching them from places like tall buildings, etc. But as time goes on, and Peeping Tom appears closer and closer, to the point where he’s only yards away, Butterfly Kisses creeps up on you. It will tickle your spine with butterfly kisses of its own, tickling and tickling until it (hopefully) causes you to scream with the final, bloodcurdling image.
Due to the nature of the film, there is only one issue that I had, and that is the fact that Butterfly Kisses feels incomplete. With three intercut stories around the same subject, only one has an ending which feels neatly wrapped up (I won’t say which). But there are so many questions without answers left, such as why can’t Gavin find any evidence that these college students existed, what’s with the hand-wavy (timey-wimey?) explanation as to what begins to happen to Gavin towards the end, and, if the filmmakers who are following Gavin are considered to be main characters (I think so), then what happens to them with their story? All of this can be considered nitpicky, and it is, but I can’t help feeling as if Butterfly Kisses needs that little extra bit of resolution.
If you’re a fan of the found footage genre and seeking something that will get under your skin, Butterfly Kisses should easily meet that expectation. But keep in mind, this is not a film for the impatient. Butterfly Kisses rewards its viewer’s patience with a slow building chill that eventually reaches a freezing point, but it does take time. Next time you feel your eyelashes begin to tickle, try not to blink. You might not like what you see when you re-open them.
Butterfly Kisses is now available on VOD.
By Matt Konopka