Hot off two screenings at Panic Fest 2022 comes director Scott Slone’s impressive venture into found footage, ‘Malibu Horror Story’. This venture was actually 10 or so odd years in the making. Found footage as a genre has shifted in the time since Slone began working on this but he manages to blend the old and the new together into an evolved found footage film that is damn effective.
The film opens with a group of four paranormal investigative YouTubers setting up shop in an eerie purple-lit cave. The way the camera moves between the characters gives us insight into what spooky adventure they’re embarking on. Eventually, the group begins an EVP session in which an entity appears to them through a spirit box. So far it seems like your typical seance-type movie, now we wait for the ghostly chaos. What Slone does next is the most impressive part of the film. A member of the paranormal investigators, Jessica (Rebecca Forsythe), shows fellow researcher Josh (Dylan Sprayberry) the episode of their show she’s been working on. This transports us into an episode of Paranormal Files and becomes a tv show-within-a-movie. The way Slone takes us from the real world into the tv show and his world of found footage is a unique way of mixing up the typical formula these films are known for. It gives us the backstory as to why Paranormal Files are in the cave but also treats us to a number of good scares.
The titular ‘Malibu Horror Story’ episode of Paranormal Files is four high school seniors who tragically disappeared after their graduation. They spent the night celebrating and indulging in all sorts of things an 18-year-old would get into: drinking, drugs, etc. All recorded of course, and after they disappear is used to imply that they deserved what happened to them. What Jessica discovers after showing Josh their rough cut is when the real terror begins. Unseen footage of the boys in the cave being terrorized by something. As we move between the real world and the found footage world no one is spared by the horror Slone injects into his work. Most of what he does is effective and terrifying.
As the rest of the film progresses we are exposed to a number of exceptional scares that utilize in-world technology in a way I’ve never seen. A stand out here is the use of an infrared camera. That coupled with the main ghost contorting into backbends and other frightening poses really amplifies the last 30 minutes or so and shows us some grim stuff.
Unfortunately one of the flaws in the story lies within the main reason for the cave being haunted. The spirits of Indigenous people who were killed by white colonizers are behind the haunting. No matter how it’s presented, this trope is very old and very overused and can never be used in a respectful way. It will always rely on negative depictions of Indigenous people. There is an attempt to divert that but I wouldn’t say it’s 100% effective. As far as the rest of the film goes, this was the only negative aspect that stood out.
I’ve always been a sucker for anything found footage, it’s one of my favorite subgenres in horror. I love it when every so often we get a new entry in that genre that stands out against the typical fare. For me, this stands alongside Hell House LLC as something unique, something that blends different methods of filmmaking into one compelling film. While it did feel somewhat predictable at times it was still fresh and fun and gave us characters to root for even though we knew it wouldn’t end well for them. This is the perfect fun popcorn movie to watch with the lights off at your next horror movie night. Slone delivers a unique found footage experience that’s thrilling and pretty damn scary.