“That’s the best found footage film I’ve ever seen”, were the first words out of my wife’s mouth after watching “Butterfly Kisses” last night. And she does have a point: the film has a lot going for it, innovating in a genre that has long since been deemed dead by mainstream Hollywood. Is it the best found footage film ever made? Let’s find out.
First, though, we have to talk about the plot of the film: a filmmaker finds some footage of a film school project made by a couple of youngsters in the mid-2000s. It contains the legend of “Peeping Tom”, a small-town legend, oft-forgotten. Basically, you must stare into a tunnel for an hour straight, at a certain time of day, and if you achieve that, you summon “Peeping Tom”, or “Mr. Blinky”, or a variety of other names for this entity. The youngsters in the original film find a loophole and try to summon “Peeping Tom” by other means. Remember, though: every time you blink, he gets closer.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but the film is as much about these two youngsters (like any other found footage film) as it is about Gavin York, the filmmaker who finds the tapes. Mr. York, who is working as a wedding videographer to (not quite) pay the bills, sees this grand opportunity to finally make it big and be a respectable, money-making filmmaker. So he then hires a documentary crew to follow him around as he tries to validate the original footage.
Does it sound confusing? Don’t worry, it actually isn’t confusing at all. The timelines are very well differentiated, and you’re always guided by proper storytelling and actually, surprisingly good acting in the “present day” (though slightly less so in the youngster’s timeline).
We really should, however, talk about this film in two ways.
As a film, as is often the case, it has its flaws: the MiniDV video footage looks surprisingly convincing, but the acting in it was not that great. They are younger actors, so a bit of am-dram is expected, particularly in the most demanding scenes. The black and white aesthetics are explained within the context of the film, but I know that, at least part of the underlying reasoning behind this was to make the timelines more distinct. And it works, but you can just see through the cracks of how the original footage was put together. It doesn’t take away from the film, and it doesn’t pull you away from the suspension of disbelief. But it is there. Aside from that, the film as a movie works on all levels, with beautiful camera work in the “present” timeline, fantastic acting, and cameos from a who’s-who list of horror A-listers, including none other than Ed Sanchez, the co-director of “The Blair Witch Project”. So, well done! You’ve made a good film.
However, we need to talk about this film as a commentary on the found footage genre, and that’s where, I think, this film pulls a double-whammy worthy of your time (and anyone’s time). You see, everything in the movie, from the plot to the dialog, is constantly self-referencing the genre without being too in-your-face and breaking the fourth wall. As a massive fan of found footage films, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the genre explored within a fictional narrative quite like this (other than perhaps in “Found Footage 3D”, though, that, as a film, as a much different tone). The fact that Erik Kristopher Myers, the director of “Butterfly Kisses”, was able to make a fun, different found footage film for the masses, while at the same time making a commentary on the genre and succeeding at not being too on-the-nose… That’s the key to this whole thing.
You could have just made a good found footage film. And you could have just made a good film about found footage horror. Erik Kristopher Myers and his team did both, and pulled it off in stellar fashion. I’m a fan of found footage films to the point where I made a found footage horror short myself. This, to me, is a celebration of the genre in the best possible way.
Going back to the first sentence in this review: I don’t know if this is the best found footage film ever made. As a movie, it’s definitely my wife’s favorite, and I loved it, too. But as a compounded effort in making a fun, scary found footage film while at the same time examining the genre, commenting on it and even on the public’s perception of it… I’ve never really seen anything quite like it, or better. And that’s a hell of an achievement.