LandLocked was one of the virtual premiers at the 2021 Nightstream film festival, and marks the narrative feature debut for documentarian, writer, and director Paul Owens. In addition to location shooting in New Jersey, Owens incorporates footage from his own vintage home movies into the film. Each member of the real life Owens family plays a fictionalized version of themselves.
The film opens on Mason (Mason Owens), returning to his childhood home after the death of his father. The house is set to be demolished the following week, and neither of his brothers has much free time or inclination to deal with it. As Mason begins to clear out his late dad’s belongings, he discovers the old family video camera.
Initially just hoping to relive childhood memories, Mason discovers that the camera actually provides a real time window into the past. Whatever date is set on the camcorder’s internal clock, is what the user will see when they look into the viewfinder. Finding a stockpile of blank tapes in the basement, Mason begins to obsessively document his family’s past.
The plot is relatively inert, primarily just Mason exploring the house, with occasional cameos from his brothers. The footage of the past and present is blended skillfully, and LandLocked is quite good at finding the genuinely eerie in the mundane. The giggle of a child as they take their first steps, the passing of traffic and the buzzing of insects all become ominous as the past and the present begin to meld. The sights and sounds that are commonplace in a bustling suburban family home becomes unsettling in the empty shell of their former residence.
LandLocked‘s neo VHS, found footage adjacent style isn’t exactly new, but it is a good fit for this specific narrative. A throwback media format in a movie so intimately concerned with the way memories can be tied not just to time, but also place reads more thematic underline than nostalgia fueled gimmick. Considering the cast is composed entirely of non actors, most of them (aside from an incredibly awkward one scene character early in the film) acquit themselves well enough. The few performance wobbles are not enough to destroy the atmosphere created by editing and careful use of ambient noise in the sound design.
If anything, the main issue at hand here is that Paul Owens is too close to his own material. In using his real life family, he has an intimate knowledge of his subjects as both actual people and narrative characters. However, the audience does not, and as LandLocked takes a more overtly supernatural turn in the final stretch, the lack of character development and traditional exposition leave the conclusion a bit too chaotic and slight to be fully satisfying.
There are the bones of a solid slow burner in the film’s examination of memories as both boon and blindspot, depending on how deeply you cling to them. Looking too far backward comes at the expense of moving forward. While LandLocked perhaps fails to fully flesh out the horror of its interesting central idea, the movie deserves respect for the scope of its conceptual ambition. While the lack of experience and budgetary resources keeps the execution from reaching those same heights, it still manages to unearth some engaging mood and tone for those who enjoy the more introspective side of indie genre film.
Wicked Rating: 5.5/10
Director: Paul Owens
Writer: Paul Owens
Starring: Mason Owens, Paul Owens
Country: United States
Runtime: 75 minutes