Cry

From a business perspective, the whole point of found-footage horror movies is that they’re cheap. An investor can throw a few grand into a project like Paranormal Activity and make a fortune; people turn out for low-budget effects and a messy, lo-fi aesthetic because it feels more authentic. So it was strange to watch the found-footage demon-hunting film Cry and think, “Wow, this could have used a little more polish.”

The money issue wouldn’t stand out so much if the movie didn’t make a big deal of it right away. Cry follows a ghost-hunting team that stages hauntings to produce viral YouTube hits: we see the vlogs they produce and the behind-the-scenes fakery. Within the first minute of the movie, team leader Jay Tanner (Octavius Ra, who also directs) claims that the team’s last video got over 313 million views. Then cameraman Sean (Patrice Walker) says that he doesn’t feel guilty about faking the hauntings because he just bought a new car. Maybe he meant a Hot Wheels car. The camera, sound quality, and visual assets of the vlog don’t suggest “viral megastars;” there are plenty of tiny YouTube channels with better production quality than Cry.

“…a ghost-hunting team that stages hauntings to produce viral YouTube hits…”

But really, the problem isn’t that Cry looks like it cost less than a hundred dollars to make—the cheaper the movie, the more I want to root for it. It’s that despite some funny and creepy moments, Cry’s performances and special effects aren’t executed with any confidence or panache.

After establishing to the audience that they’re a bunch of scheming frauds who don’t believe in demons, Jay, Sean, and crew members Megan (Aimee Vincent) and Rachel (Sarah Ariza-Verreault) check into the infamously haunted King Hotel in Toronto. As they sweep the hallways with goofy-looking ghost detectors, Ra’s performance carries the movie; I wouldn’t call his acting “good,” but he mimics the loud, vacuous enthusiasm of real YouTube stars well. If Cry has any ambitions towards social commentary, it’s to be The Blair Witch Project for the Logan Paul generation, and Jay’s bravado makes that point clear. Our narcissistic desire for internet fame will destroy us! Something like that.

“As they sweep the hallways with goofy-looking ghost detectors, Ra’s performance carries the movie…”

Once things get spooky, however, Cry starts to fall apart. Minus a door closing on its own and some fake blood at the end, the only “scary” special effect that happens in Cry is that the screen will become a high-contrast red for a few milliseconds and a distorted shriek will blow out the unfortunate viewer’s speakers. I guess it’s supposed to be “the demon possessing the camera” or something. I’ve seen some great video-distortion effects in horror movies, but this is not one of them. It’s something that any high-schooler with Final Cut Pro could do. Mostly it’s just annoying. There are some effectively creepy Paranormal Activity-esque sleepwalking scenes, but they’re such a direct knockoff that the characters actually name-drop Paranormal Activity. I guess the filmmakers didn’t want to get sued.

I don’t even want to talk about the last twenty minutes of Cry, which involve a séance, a locked room, and our actors trying and failing to act traumatized. It’s admirable what Cry tries to do with such a low budget, but in biting off more than it can chew, it makes the same mistake as its main characters.

For a found-footage horror movie with a similar concept, check out Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, a Korean import from earlier this year. It was a bigger-budget studio production, so it’s not a fair comparison, but it does more justice to the “selfie-vlogger generation’s Blair Witch” premise.

Cry (2018). Directed by Octavius Ra. Written by Octavius Ra and Sarah Ariza-Verreault. Starring Octavius Ra, Sarah Ariza Verreault, Aimee Vincent, Patrice Walker.

4 out of 10 spoopy ghosts

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