NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
Eventually, it seems, every sub-genre of horror will get its own found footage/video diary picture. In fact, there has already been a film in that format with a dinosaur – though that was one of those movies where you don’t see the menace until the last shot, when the whole effects budget gets blown on the surprise. This bluntly-titled bit of Blair Witchery – it’s not even The Dinosaur Diaries – is the found footage take on the ‘lost world’ movie, albeit one so impatient to get to the good stuff that it locates its lost world with unlikely ease. As in the 1960 film of The Lost World, the explorers just get to the land where dinos live by helicopter (which is then disabled, to keep the story going) rather than having to slog through miles of trackless jungle, following a crumbly map, as in the 1912 Conan Doyle novel, written at the end of the era when there were enough unexplored stretches of the globe to offer gaps where fictional lost worlds could be placed.
It opens with snatches of news footage about M’kele M’bembe, ‘the African Loch Ness Monster’, which is theorised as a plesiosaur – though it was a brontosaurus back in Baby: The Secret of the Lost Legend – and set-up for the expedition into the Congo. Indiana Jones hat-wearing cryptozoologist Marchant (Richard Dillane) is the leader, with a wormy sidekick who shows signs of incipient psychosis (Peter Brooke), a couple of disposable film crew folk and a guide who is blatantly trying to hold something back along for the ride into the interior of Africa. Marchant’s fifteen-year-old techie son Luke (Matt Kane) stows away in the chopper, a plot development that feels like something out of a 1950s kids’ book, and has one of those back-and-forth struggles with a stern father that serves to pad things out until the monsters show up but then annoyingly keeps going as the found footage tendency to present self-absorbed, constantly chattering characters (fair enough – who else would film everything?) ensures that these people stay focused on their not-that-interesting personal troubles when any decent science fiction film types would be going ‘gosh, wow, dinosaurs!’ or theorising why evolution has bypassed this region. It’s unclear whether there’s a hidden valley, a private enclave the local government wants to keep hidden or a timewarp in operation, but the upshot is the same – monsters!
Some flying creatures any six-year-old in the audience will recognise as pterodactyls – which none of the cryptozoologists or paleontologists aboard care to name – flap at the helicopter and it goes down in a region swarming with prehistoric life. Though the CGI is just okay – above SyFy level, but a long way from Jurassic Park – there are still cool creatures: a horde of wing-walking, man-sized vampire bats are probably the standouts, but a plesiosaur does show up to eat someone later, and there’s a nice baby dino (named Crypto) who bonds with the young lead and saves him from the fate meted out to the villain by its hungry/angry parents by spitting all over him. There’s an odd disjunct between the boys’ adventure hijinx of the storyline and the Blair Witch grimness that has characters killed off in blurry asides or just plain lost in the camera shuffle. The locations are spectacular, but would have benefited from being filmed properly. The cast are all a bit one-notey, even the dinosaurs – in theory, the character thrust is that the disapproving father and the rebellious son learn to appreciate each other in extremis (with each prepared to sacrifice for the other), but in practice so much time is spent on them being a pair of dicks that any reconciliation is beside the point since it’s hard to care about either one of them. In the end, I came out of it wishing they’d ditched the overdone found footage angle and just made an old-fashioned lost world adventure. Written by Tom Pridham, Jay Basu and Sid Bennett; photographed by Pridham; directed by Bennett.