For most of us, our hometowns are a special place. It’s where we grew up. Where we formed our first relationships. Where we learned to love horror. But for some of us, our hometowns also had a dark secret. If we were lucky, that secret never came close to interrupting our naïve childhoods. Too bad for the characters of Unlisted Owner that they aren’t so lucky…
…Directed by Jed Brian and written by Brian & Tyler Landers, Unlisted Owner centers around a house in Lawford County, Illinois, where a family has just been murdered. A group of dumbass kids decide it would be a great idea to film themselves breaking into the house and check out the murder scene, where they discover the killer may not have ever left.
Let’s get this out of the way first. Found footage films have finally died the ungraceful death that was a longtime coming. When done right, they can be excellent films that use realism and the advantage of unknown actors to make the terror seem genuine. When done wrong though, found footage films can feel tired and derivative. They’re a great way for newer filmmakers to break into filmmaking, as they are simpler (and cheaper) to make, and don’t require a lot of heightened film expertise like sound design, cinematography, etc. Sadly, Unlisted Owner belongs in the latter category.
In order for a found footage film to work, it has to feel REAL. But in Unlisted Owner’s case, very few things feel natural. Right from the beginning, the editing is a headache. In the very first scene, a young girl records her family moving into a house, following her dad around with the camera. I counted more than three separate times where the girl lowers the camera, turns it off, and turns it back on, all while she and her father are climbing the stairs IN THE SAME SCENE. What this does is allow the audience to feel each and every cut, a part of the film which should never be that noticeable.
Every once in awhile, there is a “damaged video” effect that, while effective in moments, most often becomes a distraction. At one point, while our main character Jed (Jed Brian) is filming outside the murder scene, he and his friends are approached by a kid named Tanner (Tanner Hoke). Tanner recounts the legend of the house in a sleepy sounding Friday the 13th Part 2 type rendition, describing murders that took place there years ago, but right in the middle of the legend, the effect comes into play, interrupting part of the story. This isn’t a dramatic effect to cover up for a twist that never occurs later. It’s just an example of the way in which the editing more often than not gets in the way of the story Brian is trying to tell and remind the audience that they are watching a movie, taking away the “based on a true story” effect which Outside Owner is aiming for.
As for the characters, well, lets just say Unlisted Owner follows the method of delivering characters you hate so much that you can’t wait to see them get picked off in the most deserving of methods. Gavin (Gavin Groves) is an obnoxious idiot constantly getting the group in trouble. Tyler (Tyler Landers) is an asshole who does nothing but insult everyone. The others, including Jed’s girlfriend, Andrea (Andrea Potts) are all pretty forgettable, one dimensional people added in for a higher body count. Jed may be the only likeable one, but spends most of his time filming rather than appearing on screen. Call me crazy, but its hard to like a group of people who rush to a murder scene where dead bodies are still being pulled out because they think its “cool”. I’ll say this, the actors all seem to be having fun at least, so despite the fact that the group spends the majority of the film arguing and making fun of each other, they’re interactions are spirited. Perhaps the intention is for us to want, badly, for each of these characters to meet an unspeakably awful death, another area which Unlisted Owner never fully satisfies.
And let me tell you, these kids are beyond stupid. I don’t mean like that gullable friend we all have that thinks euthanasia is a country. These are the kind of people that fire bottle rockets from their assholes. Imagine the guys from Jackass, but if none of them were funny. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but when the kids realize there is a killer in the house, and are still running around looking for their missing friends instead of running out the front door, you have to wonder how much these people are working with upstairs. I’m from Illinois myself. We have some dumb people there, but this is ridiculous.
I almost feel like Brian would have benefitted more from leaving out the found footage aspect, allowing for a more “cinematic” vibe to play up the gore and slasher tropes. Like most lower tier found footage films, there is simply no point for the camera. Especially when the true horror begins. Some films at least try to make up an excuse, like someone using the camera for lighting the way in the dark, or the classic “I have to film this so people believe us”. There’s none of that here though. Instead, Jed continues to hold onto the camera and record, even as he and his friends are being attacked by a killer. It’s almost as if the camera itself is completely forgotten as a tool, leaving me to wonder how much better Unlisted Owner could’ve been without the found footage gimmick.
Unlisted Owner’s worst sin is the story itself. Just like the surburban home the film is based on, Unlisted Owner looks like every other found footage film you’ve seen, without ever bothering to put on a fresh coat of paint. Group of just above the line, morally reprehensible kids? Check. Mysterious killer, complete with vague backstory? Check. Countless jump scares comprised of friends leaping out at each other? Check. The list goes on and on. Unlisted Owner is so by the numbers, that it barely stands on the weak foundation holding it up.
The one thing that keeps the whole thing from crumbling down? Brian actually does a great job of building tension towards the end of the second act and on through the finale. Once the kids arrive at the house, (which, arguably, comes too late in the film), things really begin to move, and that sense of fun instilled within all slashers becomes strongest: that feeling of excitement that finally, someone is going to do these kid’s parents a favor and take them out. Brian shows good restraint, keeping his killer in the shadows and unleashing him at just the right moments. The first half of Unlisted Owner may be difficult to watch at times, but the genuine scares towards the end come close to making up for it.
Unlisted Owner is not the strongest debut from Jed Brian, but it does have its moments. If the film has taught me anything, its that if my friends want to go look at dead bodies at a murder scene…I probably have shitty friends.
Unlisted Owner is available now on Amazon Prime.
By Matt Konopka