Director: Scott Sloan
Notable Cast: Tommy Cramer, Dylan Sprayberry, Rebecca Forsythe, Robert Bailey Jr, Jacob Hughes, Veno Miller, Hector Gomez Jr, Valentina de Angelis
Also known as: The Malibu Tapes
The term ‘mockumentary’ can be deceptive. Although the genre may regularly apply to the style or tonality of comedies like The Office or any of Christopher Guest’s films like A Mighty Wind, it has more to do with the replication of a documentary than it does satire or spoof. For example, Malibu Horror Story is most certainly a mockumentary for its first two thirds as it replicates the feeling of a ghost investigation show one might stumble upon on YouTube. Yet horror fans might be immediately turned off by that idea as so many found footage flicks have already used that angle to tell their story - ala Grave Encounters.
Still, it’s the can-do attitude to remarkably strong execution of films like Malibu Horror Story that remind us of what a mockumentary can do as a filmic style. Maybe the term shockumentary is more fitting. Not only does this film properly create a fake documentary feel for most of its run time, but it ends up being a decently fun and horror film that pushes the boundaries of its budget and adds just enough artistic merit to its proceedings to lift the whole beyond its parts. Malibu Horror Story might seem like “just another found footage horror flick.” It’s not and there is a creative flow to it that sets it apart from its peers.
Initially, Malibu Horror Story feels like it might as well be about a YouTube investigation show that I’ve never heard of. As the team of researchers and investigators dig into their latest scoop - delving into the secrets of four teen boys who went missing in the desert but left some footage behind - there is a sense that writer and director Scott Sloan knows how to put together a documentary and it’s presented as such. In fact, the footage used for the news broadcasts and interviews looks ridiculously real and, there’s a big part of me that’s guessing Sloan and company had access to real local news sets and anchors to pull this off.
However, as the film progresses, it reveals that all of this set up, which unfortunately pits its supernatural blame on Native American burial grounds (AGAIN), is just there to get our team of young investigators into the cave trying to recreate or solve the mystery. Yes, there is a certain Scooby-Doo element to it, but the execution of that transition - from the documentary to the present time with its traditional cinematic narrative is rather effective.
Most of this is that, for a film where I expected its budgetary constraints to show, Malibu Horror Story looks impressive. Once it nabs onto its more cinematic look, Sloan cakes the film in a gritty surrealism that uplifts the entire experience. The color schemes (with inky blues that give the cave setting a dynamic look) and how the film bounces between the camera footage and a Suspiria inspired nightmarish tone gives its rather formulaic scares a lot of oomph. In a lot of ways, particularly with the body contortions and possession focused scares, there is a solid Evil Dead influence in this one that is well used.
While the performances of its cast may not always live up to the visual or atmospheric touches, they get the job done and add just enough to the horror sequences to keep the momentum moving forward and the film’s can-do attitude easily allows it to clear the gaps of its formula or use of tropes. If anything, Malibu Horror Story is the little film that could and its ambitious use of shifting narrative style, visual flair, and bold ending make it one of the must-see horror films of the year.
Don’t let its mockumentary style deter you, there is a creative flow and strong sense of execution in Malibu Horror Story that impresses well beyond its flaws. If anything, I’m entirely sold on seeing what Scott Sloan conjures up next to follow this up.