Tag Archives: viral marketing

RetView #41 – Megan is Missing (2011)

Title: Megan is Missing

Year of Release: 2011

Director: Michael Goi

Length: 89 mins

Starring: Amber Perkins, Rachel Quinn, Dean Waite

The story behind Megan is Missing is almost as remarkable as the film itself. Despite being initially released in 2011 it was shot in the found footage format made famous by the Blair Witch Project (1999) five years earlier on a miniscule budget of around $30k. Writer/Director Michael Goi claimed the reason for the gap between production and release was down to the objectionable subject matter. He simply couldn’t find anyone to distribute it until Anchor Bay stepped up. Due to the budgetary constraints involved, and to give the movie a ‘raw’ feeling, it was made over the course of a week by a crew of just five using only minimal equipment. It was claimed that this drive for authenticity was also the reasoning behind using largely juvenile, unknown actors, though it’s difficult to see many Hollywood A-listers (or even Z-listers) signing on to a project by a newbie director when those kinds of figures are being bandied around. It was originally marketed as an educational film about the dangers of the internet with Goi stating his desire for it to serve as a ‘wake up call’ to parents. However, it later found considerable traction in the teen horror market.

The story follows popular Californian high-school student Megan Stewart (Rachel Quinn) who meets up with ‘Josh,’ a boy she had been interacting with online, and subsequently vanishes without trace prompting her less-popular best friend Amy Herman (Amber Perkins) to set out to find her. The first half of the film provides an unflinching snapshot into the complicated, overlapping lives of teens in the technological age where bullying and peer pressure is rife, interspersed with regular bouts of slut-shaming, social exclusion and a plethora of other disturbing yet apparently all-too common practices. It’s difficult to watch and not recognize something of yourself in there somewhere, and credit has to be given where it’s due for shining a light on some of the more damaging aspects of teenage life. If you have kids that age, this is what they deal with on a daily basis but never tell you about, and it’s fucking terrifying. All this occurs before the watershed point about two-thirds through where everything is ramped up several hundred notches. Goi later issued a trigger warning for prospective viewers stating: “Do not watch the movie in the middle of the night. Do not watch the movie alone. And if you see the words ‘photo number one’ pop up on your screen, you have about four seconds to shut off the movie before you start seeing things that maybe you don’t want to see.”

As the movie is played out entirely on a screen (or a screen within a screen) through a clumsy combination of supposedly recovered video tapes, photographs, and news reports, it technically belongs to the Computer Screen (aka Desktop Film) genre, which has risen to prominence on the back of increased use of social media. In November 2020, the film became a pop culture sensation after it went viral on social media platform TikTok, where it found its largest audience since release. Users began posting their reactions as the film progresses, with many calling it “traumatizing.” To date, the hashtag for the film has over 84 million views, much of the attention seemingly stemming from persistent rumours that the footage is real. It’s not. But nevertheless, the movie has been dogged by controversey since its release, spawned no end of debate, and firmly divided opinion. An article on Thought Catalogue says, “Everyone has those scenes from the end of the movie etched into their mind forever. This is one of the scariest movies from the past 10 years and no one talks about it,” while HorrorNews.net said that the first portion of the film “really works,” although they felt that the final twenty-two minutes “went a little overboard.” Film critic Jamie Dexter perhaps puts it best saying, “It took days for me to shake the horrible feeling this movie left in me, but that just means it was effective in what it set out to do.”

That final third is definitely hard to watch. I think the most difficult thing to reconcile is the fact that **spoiler alert** he gets away with it. After being put through over 80 minutes of debilitating psychological trauma, the viewer is entitled to expect some retribution, some kind of payback because no evil deed goes unpunished, right? Right? Yeah, we all know that isn’t always the case in real life. But this is a film, dammit. Somebody had control over it. And that somebody could easily have made ‘Josh’ fall over a tree root and bang his head on a rock or something at the end. But no. This is the kind of nightmare scenario we read about in newspapers, presented to us in vivid, unflinching, excruciating detail. Indeed, Goi based the film on real life cases of child abduction. Most of the criticism, apart from that concerning the content, was directed at the unprofessional, ‘thrown together’ feel, completely missing the fact that this was the intention from the start. Goi was going for the kind of gritty realism you just don’t get with massive budgets and slick Hollywood production. He succeeded.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here. Viewer discretion is advised.

Trivia Corner

The movie was banned by New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification on the grounds of containing sexual violence and sexual conduct involving young people to such an extent and degree that if it was released it would be ‘injurious to the public good’. The officials went on to say that the movie relished the spectacle of one girl’s ordeal, including a three-minute rape scene, and that it sexualized the lives of teenaged girls to a “highly exploitative degree.” Whilst I deplore censorship in any form, to be fair they weren’t far off the mark there.


RetView #36 – The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Title: The Blair Witch Project

Year of Release: 1999

Director: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez

Length: 81 minutes

Starring: Heather Donahue, Michael C. Williams, Joshua Leonard.

 

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty-one years (yep, that long) you must have heard a lot about this month’s #RetView entry. Among other things, The Blair Witch Project has been labelled a cult classic and credited with both exposing the world to viral marketing and ushering in the now loved and equally-loathed Found Footage genre. Personally, I’m in the former camp. Like I’ve said before, I fucking love a good Found Footage flick. The whole point of this series is to watch old(ish) films through a new lens, to see how they (or other things) have changed. Sometimes it’s useful to have a whole new set of eyes to look through, too. The first time I saw this movie was with my then-girlfriend in Wales. The second time I saw this film, over two decades later, was with a different girlfriend in a different country, who knew very little about The Blair Witch Project and the impact it made. The effect was remarkable. While it was by no means the first movie to use the found footage technique, it was the first to expose the general public to what was then a largely experimental form.

You’re probably familiar with the premise. But in case you’re not, The Blair Witch Project tells the story of a trio of student film makers who head off into the woods to investigate a local legend. Smart move. It won’t surprise you to find out that they all disappeared, leaving behind their equipment. The footage in the movie, showing the spooky events leading up to the disappearances, was supposedly discovered a year later.

I don’t know how many people reading this can remember the pre-internet world. Probably not many. Before websites and social media platforms dominated our lives as they do now, us horror buffs got most of our news and information from magazines and newspapers. The internet was there, obviously, but still in its infancy and ripe to be exploited. When it was released in 1999, the world was feverishly prepping for the Y2K bug which would apparently wipe out life as we knew it. It was a weird time. In that paranoid, twitchy climate, The Blair Witch Project rode a wave of publicity based on the fact that at first, most people didn’t know if the footage used in the movie was actually real or not. Rumours and speculation, both online and in the press (fuelled by the fact that the actors all used their real names rather than those of characters adding yet more ambiguity and realism) were rife. Artisan, the company that bought the rights to the film, allegedly spread false rumours about the actors’ demise, and deliberately failed to quash online speculation. Just the thing that makes a marketing department smile. It was one of those rare moments in cinematic history where the planets align and a little indie film destined for obscurity goes global. In this case, raking in over $248 million from a budget of just $60,000 (some sources say the true figure was closer to $25,000) proving that miracles really do happen, even in Hollywood.

Truth be told, Myrick and Sanchez squeezed an awful lot out of that $60,000. The then-innovative shooting style meant that they could get away with a lot that would be noticeable in a conventional film, but this is still remarkable in its simplicity if nothing else. It was spliced together from 20 hours of raw footage taken over eight days in Maryland, and much of the dialogue was improvised on the spot. Rumour has it that they wanted have the Animals’ ‘We Gotta Get Out of this Place’ playing on the car stereo at the beginning, but had to veto the plan when they realized that they couldn’t afford the rights.

Even now, when you’re fully aware that most of the hype was just that, you can’t fail to be impressed. The acting is superb and there are some genuinely jumpy moments. Just for the record my second viewing companion, who was completely oblivious to all the hype, agreed. I tried convincing her the footage was authentic, and she almost believed me for a while. But people who grew up with the internet are much more savvy and less easily fooled. Regardless, The Blair Witch Project is a modern classic. If you’ve already seen it, I urge you to watch it again. Preferably with someone who hasn’t. And if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? Go discover the legend.

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Trivia Corner:

In one notorious scene, the teeth Amanda who, incidentally, is now a medicinal marijuana grower, found in the twigs were actual human teeth, supplied by Eduardo Sanchez’s dentist, and the hair belongs to Josh.

 


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