Of the many American independent films released in the cinematically bountiful year of 1999, American Movie and The Blair Witch Project both stood out as efforts that made a uniquely powerful impact on their respective genres.
The former of those was the complex, funny, and emotionally affecting non-fiction feature that introduced the world to Wisconsinite Mark Borchardt, an aspiring filmmaker and blue-collar family man whose quixotic effort to complete a short horror film took a hefty toll on nearly everyone in his life. The latter, meanwhile, was a monumental success that – with a killer conceptual hook and a next-to-nothing budget – pioneered the “found footage” horror genre, inadvertently spawning a legion of imitators eager to capitalize on its buzzworthy reinvention of what Pauline Kael used to call the “boo movie.”
Nearly twenty years on from those films’ release, their legacies loom large over Butterfly Kisses, a faux-documentary from writer/director Erik Kristopher Myers that chronicles both the hunt for a horrifying local urban legend and – with a heavy dose of self-reflexivity – a wannabe documentarian’s last-ditch effort to launch his own directorial career.
Somewhat surprisingly, it’s actually the second of those two undertakings that Myers’ film really nails. Despite a couple of well-orchestrated shocks, a fairly unique boogeyman, and a keen understanding of the strengths and limitations of the found footage form, Butterfly Kisses isn’t quite as compelling as a horror movie as it often is as a portrait of a frustrated filmmaker’s descent into obsession, rejection, and, ultimately, self-destruction.