The found footage genre has, over many years, kind of earned itself a bad reputation. It’s almost become a dirty word in the world of horror filmmaking. The concept of an entire film centered around characters finding footage that suggests a terrible series of events isn’t really novel anymore, but that’s not why people roll their eyes. The problem is an oversaturation of the genre, with varying levels of quality...
...For every Blair Witch Project (1999) or Lake Mungo (2008), there are five more straight to Redbox, found footage embarrassments. It’s a shame, because several of my favorite films exist in the realm of found footage and films based loosely on true events. Much like the Hell House LLC. films, director Dutch Marich straddles the line between found footage and traditional narrative structure in his new film, Infernum. While it might not be considered ambitious at this point, it is a less tired and recycled way of presenting the genre. This fusion of direction has worked well in the past for some films, but concepts like this are only as good as the people behind them and the execution of those ideas.
The story of Infernum doesn’t waste any time getting started. We are introduced to a family of three, who are seemingly on a camping trip. They are rudely awakened by a loud, unpleasant sound of unknown origin. Leaving their young daughter, Camille, in the tent, they become entranced by this noise and wind up lost in the mountains, lured by this anomaly. Camille is left alone, orphaned and terrified. 25 years later, Camille, now played by the gorgeous Suziey Block, has grown up to be an ambitious seeker of truth and more specifically, the truth of what happened to her parents. Equipped with a young film student to help her and a handful of interviewees claiming to have had similar experiences, Camille is dedicated to her mission; so much so, that she is willing to risk her relationships and possibly her own life to find answers. A promising lead sends Camille and her film student sidekick, James, played by Clinton Roper Elledge to an old train that runs directly into the hotbed of supposed activity of many recorded disappearances. What transpires next is a haunting assault on the senses that doesn’t let up until the end credits.
The word, ‘Infernum,’ translates from Latin as referring to the nether world of the dead, or, more commonly referred to as, Hell. Unsurprisingly, the film does have some basis in our reality. There is a phenomenon in many places all over the world, where an unidentifiable sound can be heard, but its origin cannot be found. Sonically, witnesses have referred to the sound as ominous or of evil origin. In the film, the Hell aspect is played up more prominently, as these witnesses claim it sounds like hordes of people suffering or as ancient literature would suggest, “the gnashing of teeth.” Some believe that it is a crack, or vortex between our world and Hell. Paranormal concepts like this have always fascinated me and generally, they lend themselves to very interesting found footage films. As I stated earlier, this is a fusion of sorts. Much of the film is crafted traditionally, but it’s sprinkled with newsreel footage and interviews from those who have witnessed the unexplained sound.
I was hooked from the very beginning of this film and that’s not always easy to do, especially with a genre that has been done to death. The opening credits give us an exposition montage of sorts, showing newspaper clippings and witness testimony. It’s the kind of tactic that’s been used in many other spooky flicks, but it’s still fun and effective, here. The believability of the phenomenon is supported by the film’s ability to seem authentic in all respects. I’ve often found that in horror films dealing with such subject matter, it’s the smaller, more intimate projects that work the best. The almost mundane normalcy of our characters and shrunken scale make the story relatable enough to the audience. If our lead character were replaced with a big, household name celebrity, with gigantic stakes and set pieces, the film would, I feel, lose its integrity. Infernum spends almost half of its running time nurturing us with character development. It’s refreshing and the pacing doesn’t even suffer, because we’re getting to know these characters while they are pushing the story forward. It’s talky, but it works because the film’s story is in constant movement and progression.
When the intensity and frequency of the scares start ramping up, it feels earned. I can’t count one jump scare in the first hour of the film and it’s because it simply doesn’t need it. The story is engrossing and our lead characters are interesting enough, that the actual scares are embedded within scenes, not quick moments. Actress Suziey Block graces us with a very good performance. Her frustration when trying to balance her relationship with her boyfriend and her project feels real and relatable. You sympathize with her, but not so much that she seems inhuman. Camille is a flawed character and her ambition is no excuse for how she treats the people closest to her. Again, this is another layer of believability not often found in film these days. I’m quite used to films shoving ‘Mary Sue’ characters in my face and expecting me to relate or root for them, despite their obvious manufactured creation. Camille feels like someone you might know. She might be someone who irks you every now and again, but she’s someone you understand. While Suziey Block has proved her ability to carry a film, I was a bit put off by her tendency to overact when reacting to the many terrors thrown at her. Of course, anyone would be disturbed and probably traumatized by the events of this film, but she does come across theater-like at times, being overly expressive. It’s a small complaint but one worth noting. The remaining cast, while small, does a good, serviceable job. The interviewed witnesses especially deserve to be recognized, as their testimonies felt legitimately scarring and life changing.
My only criticism to the narrative is the ending. It felt rushed and perhaps the writers weren’t sure how to end it, so they opted for a less than acceptable, open to interpretation kind of conclusion that’s ultimately just too vague. I’m all for a film leaving the viewer with questions and many different possible explanations, but there have to be enough puzzle pieces to assemble something that makes sense. While not completely nonsensical, it’s just not enough to be satisfying in any way. Thankfully, the journey of getting to the end is so rich with genuine quality, that the disappointing ending is completely forgivable.
Technically, Infernum, is not only proficient on a general quality standard, but it’s also clever. Sound is a big part of this film and the way it’s been engineered here is fantastic. The whirring and low frequency sounds of the anomaly is used to great effect with surround sound implementation. Even those watching with only a stereo sound set up can appreciate the work that’s been done. Just like our characters can’t discern where the sounds are coming from, so too, do we have a difficult time as well and it’s unnervingly effective. The film is shot well and the production looks like most great independent horror films do, with on location shooting as opposed to sets and sound stages. It adds a layer of authenticity that makes these kinds of films so convincing.
As a fan of found footage film and indie horror in general, Infernum is a delicious post Halloween treat. It can be difficult to weed through the towering collection of found footage and mockumentary horror films, but these little gems of horror greatness make it worth the search. I look at filmmaker Dutch Marich, with great adoration and admiration for crafting a film that values its characters and seeks integrity and genuine believability. For those who are fans of paranormal phenomena and intimate, involved stories, one need not look further this holiday season than Infernum.
Infernum is now screaming on VOD/DVD from Indican Pictures.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth