Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story full movie review - An average found footage movie that series fans will be all the more disappointed by.
I'm a huge fan of the Marble Hornets YouTube series.
A little background for those who might not be familiar with it: Marble Hornets is a project by a group of film school friends, collectively known as THAC (Troy Has a Camera), that chronicles the disappearance of Alex Kralie and his friend Jay's attempt to find him. They are pursued by the Slenderman-like entity known as The Operator.
This film, Always Watching, was not made by the THAC team but rather by a writer and director who have previous credits in more recent, mainstream horror. It does supposedly take place in the same world as the MH series.
Anyone who isn't familiar with the series might like this film a lot more than I did. You certainly don't have to be to watch the movie, it stands on it's own. But even then you might be rolling your eyes at the same found-footage clichés the film falls back on.
If you've seen other FF movies, aside from a few unique spins here and there, you've seen it all before. It doesn't do anything particularly well, but it's not terribly bad either. It really just reeks of mediocrity. The film follows a group of reporters who are doing a story on house foreclosure. When they stumble upon a box of tapes in a mysteriously furnished but abandoned house, they discover that the family had been stalked and tormented by The Operator, played by the famous Doug Jones.
I'm absolutely mystified as to why Jones was involved in this project, because the director absolutely wasted his talent. I consider Doug a king in horror, he's an amazing creature actor that totally could have killed it as The Operator, but the director just decides to reduce him to standing and teleporting, and an occasional flick of the wrist. Doug does a great job with what he's given, but seeing how he's a perfect fit for a Slenderman character, I'm almost angry they didn't use him more. Wasted potential.
The other actors actually do very well considering this isn't a huge-budget Hollywood flick. Their characters, however, aren't as compelling. The writer definitely tried to give them some emotion and character, and it shows, but ultimately it never really goes anywhere and you're just waiting around for them to die. Seeing as the Marble Hornets series characters are fantastically written, I would expect more.
The movie isn't terribly scary. It has some tense moments, a few good jump scares, but it really loses it's steam about halfway through when it starts getting boring and repetitive.
Fans of the series will be thoroughly disappointed with the general direction of the movie. I'm not sure if the director and writer were fans of the show before they made the movie, one would assume and hope, but they really miss the mark and fail to see what makes the series so special. The film was focused too much on action and scares and not about building atmosphere and a good mystery. It's a 90 minute movie, so I understand not having too much time to do that, but they could have made an effort considering it's supposed to be tied to the series.
The biggest mistake they made was The Operator itself. They simply made too many changes from the series to how it acts. In the series, The Operator's motives and goals remain incredibly unclear. It never seems to want to kill or harm the characters, but rather torment them and drive them insane. It's never really implied that any of the characters are under control of the Operator at any point in the series. In the movie, however, it's made incredibly clear that all The Operator wants to do is possess and kill the characters after "marking" them. (Which is another pointless and stupid addition to the mythos, separating it further from the series. Why add that in? There was never any branding of the (x) symbol in the series.) Why he made these changes to the mythos mystifies me, because this is supposedly set in the same universe as the series. Watching it alongside the series, however, would be difficult due to the large amount of differences in how The Operator acts.
To me, it seems like the writer or director wanted to make a Slenderman fan film, but wanted it to gain a little more attention and traction, so he got THAC (they were supposedly consulted) and Doug involved but then went off on his own and did his own thing. I think MH deserves a bit better from a feature length "Hollywood" film.
The only redeeming parts to fans of the series will be the callouts to it. There are two distinct references to Marble Hornets that fans will be grinning at, these saved the movie from being a complete disaster to me.
From a found footage standpoint, this isn't the worst I've ever seen. It follows most of the same conventions of every other small- budget FF movie. But fans of the series will be sorely let down.