We’ve all been there. A group of young people acting stupid and irresponsible. A night of drinking and casual drug use. You wake in a bathtub with a mask on your head and find one of your group is missing. Absolutely horrifying, right? But usually, it works out, as the missing person finds their way home or calls. Normally, it doesn’t turn into an epic quest through the underbrush and abandoned buildings. And it definitely does not morph into being hunted by strangers in masks. But this is where writer/ director/ star/ cinematographer/ editor/ and costume designer Mike Chester (a.k.a. Miko Drake Christoforou) and his friends find each other in the indie horror film Where’s Wendy.
Found Footage horror has gotten a bad rap, for many good reasons. Not the least of which is the market’s oversaturation, thanks to the success of The Blair Witch Project. Still, it can effectively create tension for a horror story that doesn’t have a major studio budget. The very nature of the style lends itself to horror, giving the filmmaker more opportunity to hide the “monster.” And to Chester’s credit, he not only has effective tension but does a fair job of establishing the narrative. As much as I detest improvised acting, he corrals his characters into believable situations and coaxes performances that are more reminiscent of home movies than professional line readings. The establishing portions of the story never feel bogged down, but instead, flow naturally into his premise and eventual horror. Unfortunately, no matter how good a setup you give us, it all falls apart without a proper payoff.
There are several parts of Where’s Wendy that, while they don’t make sense, can be forgiven because the characters are teenagers. I have vivid recollections of being an utter idiot in my teens, and I suspect many of you do as well. So, continuing to search the scary woods after dark, taking unknown pills offered to you by strangers, and (most baffling of all) never calling the police make a certain amount of sense. What doesn’t make sense is that we never know who exactly is behind the camera? There are several shots in which our main character just isn’t there. If this is found footage and he was the one with the camera, who is taking the shot?
“…hunted by strangers in masks.”
Also, how did this get edited together, and who added the visual effects? Are we to believe that the mysterious tormentors got ahold of his footage and added their own? It conjures an image of our mysterious tormentors huddled over a laptop, arguing furiously over where to put a shot, what to cut, what’s vital to the overall narrative, and how much music to use. It is hilarious. Aspiring filmmakers, take note, that could be a good premise for your next indie comedy slasher flick.
So, the overall effect of watching this horror film is a bit like watching a fairly good gymnastics routine where the athlete faceplants at the end. As the movie progresses, it not only makes less sense and “borrows” from better horror films but also ups the number of teenage girls in their underwear. Not enough to be child pornography, mind you, but just enough to make you feel like you’re now on a watchlist.
Most of the problems with Where’s Wendy come from a simple lack of experience. It is raw and amateurish, but there is a glimmer of a good idea here. Despite the flaws, as a director, Chester shows promise. He’s very young, but with a few more years and more experience, he might deliver something really great.
"…a bit like watching a fairly good gymnastics routine where the athlete faceplants at the end."