Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Violence
Directed by: James Moran
Written by: Ian Shorr
Starring: Alexandra Breckenridge, Doug Jones, Jake McDorman, Alexandra Holden, Chris Marquette & Rick Otto
With the vast world of Creepypasta available at our fingertips, I occasionally wonder why we don’t see solid horror flicks inspired by these internet urban legends. I mean, how terrifying could a film about the Russian Sleep Experiment be? There’s so much potential found in these digital age campfire tales that could make for a number of great horror flicks. That’s how MARBLE HORNETS (a web series that found quite a bit of mainstream success) got started. Inspired by the Slenderman mythos, HORNETS was a found footage take on a mysterious supernatural faceless entity known as The Operator. Wherever he appears, death and madness follow. ALWAYS WATCHING is a spin-off of MARBLE HORNETS and treats itself as its own story set within that same universe. You would think that could open the door for endless possibilities, but sadly, this handheld horror flick drops the ball in many different ways.
A small news team, made of Milo (a cameraman), Sara (Milo’s former girlfriend) and Charlie (Sara’s boyfriend), are doing a story about repossessed houses. While checking out one particular abandoned home, Charlie discovers a box of camera equipment and video tapes in the creepy basement. Being curious, they decide to peruse them. This leads to a disturbing discovery. The family on the tapes was being stalked by The Operator (as mentioned before, MARBLE HORNET’s version of the Slenderman) and found their perfect lives devolving into violence. It all seems spooky enough to Milo until he discovers that The Operator seems to be stalking him now. Sara and Charlie get involved and the trio find themselves trying to solve the mystery of The Operator…before they become his next victims.
ALWAYS WATCHING has a big distraction in its narrative. The film tries to weave two separate stories about The Operator into one film through different pieces of found footage. The main story is the news crew trying to solve the mystery of The Operator, while the sub-plot follows a family’s life crumbling apart on the video tapes. The latter is much more interesting than the former. So much so that I feel the family plot had a great idea and should have been the main focus. Part of this stems from the three protagonists being unlikable knuckleheads. This is especially true of Milo (played by Chris Marquette, who I mainly know as the younger brother in JUST FRIENDS). His character is supposedly set up as a sympathetic guy, but he comes off as a creepy stalker himself (following Sara around with his camera). The other characters are your stereotypical walking horror clichés. The Operator, played by Doug Jones (who probably filmed all of his scenes in the space of an hour), is a non-threatening presence. The whole idea that his evil influence drives unsuspecting people to madness is interesting, but that doesn’t exactly make for an interesting movie. Other than only appearing on video (the characters can’t see him without the camera), The Operator merely seems like a creepy guy who’s occasionally standing in the corner. As a result, the film (aside from one suspenseful moment) is not frightening or scary in the slightest.
That aforementioned suspenseful moment comes in Milo searching his house after a power outage (of course). I was unnerved during that quietly intense sequence, but the rest of the film feels cheap and clichéd. I imagine that ALWAYS WATCHING didn’t exactly have the budget to pull off a lot of impressive or insane special effects. Every time we see The Operator we get a couple of camera glitches and him suddenly popping up (much like a certain online game) or standing in the distance. The main story and side-plot are extremely by the numbers as well. Though I would have loved to see the family subplot turned into a feature, we know where everything is heading from a few minutes in. As a result, a movie like this (being found footage and all) must try extra hard to make the ride fun or terrifying. ALWAYS WATCHING is neither of these things. I found myself constantly bored and checking how much time was left. The ending is every bit as anti-climactic and overly familiar as we’ve seen in countless found footage horror flicks.
ALWAYS WATCHING is far from the worst found footage horror flick I’ve seen. There is one sequence that had me glued to the screen and a solid idea at the center of this movie. However, the way in which this story is pulled off is disappointing. I found myself far more bored than scared. Clichés are rife. Bad effects ruin what could have been freaky scenes. In the end, ALWAYS WATCHING comes off like your average cheap found footage horror flick that happens to be based on the Slenderman.