Combustible Celluloid
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With: Claire Holt, Katherine McNamara, Luke Baines, Timothy Granaderos, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Darren Barnet, Kal Penn, Aisha Tyler, Kevin Daniels, Lesly Kahn, Sohm Kapila
Written by: Luke Baines, Nick Simon
Directed by: Nick Simon
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 87
Date: 06/11/2021

Untitled Horror Movie (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bound Footage

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The found-footage Untitled Horror Movie starts typically with some "practice" scary stuff before turning sideways into a quite clever, double-meta movie with fun characters and some appealingly creepy situations.

Six actors receive the news that their TV show is about to be canceled. Meeting over Zoom, they also discover that they will likely be kept under contract by the studio, and thus unable to look for other work. So Kip (Timothy Granaderos) suggests that they try making the horror movie that he has been writing, and do it "found footage" style, all by themselves. The show's "star," Kelly (Claire Holt), objects, but eventually goes along with it.

A necklace worn by Chrissy (Katherine McNamara) provides an inspiration, and Declan (Luke Baines) looks up an incantation to read, while Alex (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Max (Darren Barnet) act out lines and provide suggestions. Before long, something seems to have happened to Chrissy, and the actors realize that their spell may have been real.

Of course, Untitled Horror Movie does ride on the coattails of several sharper, scarier movies that came before it, Unfriended, Searching, and Host, specifically. But it works thanks to its insider knowledge of Hollywood (actor Baines, of the series Shadowhunters, co-wrote the screenplay with director Nick Simon), and the way those cynical, insider attitudes clash with the world of horror. Most of the time, the characters can't believe that anything paranormal is going on, especially knowing the actors' craft and the strange methods some use to get to a certain emotional place.

Jokes go by quickly if you're not paying attention. Holt, who plays the snootiest of the bunch and the "star" of the canceled show, is the only one with horror experience. "I was the lead in one of the highest-grossing horror films in 2017 and I'm not making a home movie," she huffs, silently referring to 47 Meters Down. Even with her huge ego, she's the voice of reason here.

Simon and Baines also make good use of Zoom windows and phone cameras, especially in a scene in which Chrissy's computer dies, she calls Declan on her phone, and he holds her image up to his own Zoom camera. The scares are arguably cleverer than they are frightening, and the characters are as obnoxious as they are interesting, but Untitled Horror Movie still pulls its many layers together in an entertaining way.

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