Incident is an interesting choice of word for the title of a horror movie. Unlike, say, disaster, it implies that whatever happens therein is of little consequence and everything is going to be okay afterwards–not usually the intent when trying to market a fright flick. In the case of The Gracefield Incident, the debut feature from writer-director Mathieu Ratthe (who also stars), it fits perfectly.
That’s not to say spooky things don’t happen, but this isn’t your standard issue found-footage/mockumentary-style horror movie. Funny, considering it starts with the eye-roll-worthy line “Do you have to film everything?” Ugh, we collectively groan, it’s going to be THAT kind of movie. The great pleasure of The Gracefield Incident, then, is that it isn’t that type of film. At all.
Ratthe is Matthew, a young man (a video-game editor, though this job title is of little consequence to the plot) who’s lost his eye in an accident. Over the opening credits, we watch as he methodically–and, it must be acknowledged, impressively–creates an eye-camera by taking apart an old iPhone, so he can watch his friends over a weekend away without them realising.
After setting up shop in an idyllic cabin in the woods, Matthew and his buddies spot a shooting star that deposits what looks to be a mushy black crater in the forest nearby. They nab it, with the intention of showing it to anybody they can and possibly gaining fame and notoriety as a result. Before you can say “what’s that over there in the bushes?” things start to go awry.
The Gracefield Incident owes an understandable debt to the mother of all found-footage movies, The Blair Witch Project, as well as the ghastly Paranormal Activity series (at least in its house-set sequences) but the movie it brought to my mind most was the little-seen, and hugely underrated, Brit low-budgeter Hungerford, which boasted similar sci-fi trappings.
Ratthe knows what he’s doing, he knows that casual and hardcore horror fans alike are going to take one look at the well-worn premise and think they have his flick all figured out. And, although the usual found-footage cliches abound–clunky dialogue, particularly on the car journey there, bad decisions from smart people–Ratthe has an ace up his sleeve with the shooting style.
His character’s Terminator eye side-steps the usual issues around filming everything even when scary shit is going down, while a friend using an actual camera and some judicially-inserted security cam footage provide further, varied perspectives as the action unfolds. There’s also a hint of score here and there, which is virtually unheard of in found-footage.
It helps that Ratthe himself is a likeable screen presence. Although he’s a bit too committed at times, it’s endearing to see how invested he is in the story he’s telling both onscreen and off. Wrestling fans will also note he sounds and looks a bit like WWE Superstar Cesaro, but he’s got a good, er, eye for what works and what doesn’t in this kind of movie.
A mention of Bigfoot early on alerts us to the weirdness lurking in the woods, but The Gracefield Incident wisely keeps its creatures under wraps for the most part (at the risk of damning the movie with faint praise, let’s just say they look better in the long shots than the close-ups). Their design is strong and an early spook with what is clearly an actor in make-up is great.
As for scares, the movie employs jump scares–the bread and butter of found-footage–incredibly well, timing them cleverly so they’re not too obvious or predictable. Ratthe seems to understand that simple is scary, so the sight of balloons floating eerily to the ceiling, lights flickering on and off and various technological disturbances, are given room to breathe accordingly.
It’s a bit goofy at times, and the thing mostly calls to mind Adam Wingard’s similarly-themed (superior) bit from V/H/S 2, but overall The Gracefield Incident is a smart, well-made and surprisingly scary little sci-fi thriller with a huge amount of heart and an interesting twist on a well-worn concept at its core.
Catch The Gracefield Incident in select theaters, on VOD
and digital HD from July 21, 2017
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Matthieu Ratthe
Writer(s): Matthieu Ratthe
Stars: Matthieu Ratthe, Laurence Dauphinais, Alex C. Nachi, Juliette Gosselin
Release: July 21st, 2017
Studio/ Production Co: Matt Ratt Productions
Length: 89 minutes