My notes on The 16th Episode, released in the US June 28.
There aren’t that many French-Algerian horror films, so this semi-found footage feature from writer-director-producer Jérôme Cohen-Olivar – returning to territory he covered ten years ago in the interesting-sounding Kandisha (which I’ve not seen) – deserves a bit of attention. It’s sadly something of a mess, but has interesting mythology, locations, performances and flashes of unusual invention. However, even by found footage standards, the storytelling is a muddle and having characters talk about the conventions of found footage and even complaining that the sub-genre has been done to death really doesn’t help.
In a set-up we’ve seen quite a bit of lately, the protagonists are desperate-for-views youtubers who visit sketchy third world locales and risk life and limb by getting in trouble – a prologue finds on-camera talent Helen (Rebecca Ramon), camera guy Mark (Cody Heuer) and sound man Einar (Einar Kuusk) running into danger in a Brazilian favela, and Helen showing a glint of scariness that gets them out. Their next stop is Casablanca and an Air BnB apartment owned by an ominously flirty older French woman (Rosine Young), and we get a gabble of backstory about Helen’s childhood brush with demonic possession in between amped-up squabbles and infodumps relayed by characters telling what they experienced when the cameras were off. Though it has a lot of FF business, including moments when characters draw attention to the way they’ve been framed and are acting, it’s not strict about camera POV and defaults to the usual objective cinematic syntax when it suits.
There’s a conspiracy angle about a mystery zone called Bouya, where the Moroccan authorities apparently pen up those possessed by djinns, and a suspect guide takes the trio to a supposed wedding that turns out to be a strange dance ritual which gets Helen repossessed. Then a lot of plot stuff comes up about their landlady’s possibly-dead/possibly-demon-inhabited son, and a very peculiar woman walks into the film and rants about a sequence in Rosemary’s Baby before being killed. Many more references to other horror films are crammed in, along with a spot of burial alive, an amateur exorcism, an electric gadget for soul-harvesting, some messy blood-sloshing, and a general air of meandering towards doom. Heuer and Kuusk (one of his rants is labelled ‘mutters in Estonian’ in a subtitle) are stuck with the more awkward dialogue moments, but the unusual-looking, intense-but-not-obvious Ramon and the elegantly loopy Young cop the best scenes. Full marks for interesting, underused locations.
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