By Naomi Roper
Terror strikes when paranormal investigators explore a sacred Native American cave to uncover clues surrounding the disappearance of four teens.
Guys I love found-footage movies. There is just something hugely engaging about watching grainy, shaky-cam footage featuring a group of late 30-somethings pretending to be 20 acting like suicidal lemmings while investigating some mysterious hokum that should have been left well alone. The concept of the footage being something left behind for us to watch somehow increases the stakes as we find ourselves scouring every inch of the (usually dismally lit) frame for the shadow in the background, the thing that shouldn’t be there. In Malibu Horror Story (written and directed by Scott Slone) we get double the fun – two rounds of found footage!
Malibu Horror Story starts with a group of documentarians Jessica (Rebecca Forsythe), Josh (Dylan Sprayberry), Matt (Robert Baily Jr) and Ashley (Valentina de Angelis) in a cave trying desperately to get the money shot- the one scene they need to give their forthcoming documentary credibility, a filmed encounter with a supernatural entity. The group has been investigating the mysterious disappearance of several popular teen boys years earlier. This cold open isn’t found footage but then Jessica tees up for Josh the rough cut of the documentary they’re working on.
We then immediately switch to found footage for the majority of the film as we watch the documentary our intrepid investigators have put together about the disappearances of Jake (Tommy Cramer), Carlos (Hector Gomez Jr.) Tyler (Jacon Hughes) and Carter (Veno Miller) which includes tons of archive footage of their wild partying the night before their disappearance and their horribly ill-fated hiking trip on land owned by Jake’s family. Land which it turns out was brutally stolen by Jake’s ancestors from the Native Americans that lived there.
Here we must give pause. The backstory of the teen’s disappearance relies heavily on Native American myths and culture and there is always something a little unseemly about Hollywood taking Native American myths and culture and turning it into a bogeyman trope.
The ill-fated teens are engaging, more so than our documentarians and despite my best efforts, I found myself willing them to come through their hike unscathed even though you know from the structure that the worst has happened.
The movie’s third act then switches back to the documentary crew who have miraculously managed to repair some of the teens’ damaged film footage which (gasp!) reveals exactly what horrendous fate befell them. Realising that they are in serious danger the documentary crew try and flee and you can guess how well that works out.
Parts of Malibu Horror Story are endearingly silly. A late reveal about Jake’s grandparents begs the question of why Jake would ever take people he appears to genuinely like to his family’s land. Just how dumb is this guy? The shock reveal of the teen’s fates requires the police, FBI and IT people in this story all being about as useful as a chocolate teapot. So the police couldn’t retrieve or repair the damaged footage but our guys can in a remote cave with no mobile phone signal with nothing more than a laptop, a recovery app and a can-do attitude? They literally could have solved this case on their sofa in their PJs.
And don’t get me started on watching footage showing the terrible, terrible things that happened to the teens in the cave while sat in said cave at night with no cell reception and no possibility of help arriving.I may have yelled unkind things at the screen about their IQ levels.
Found footage doesn’t work unless the scares match the creaky format and thankfully Malibu Horror Story has them in spades. When it all goes to hell the scares come thick and fast and are surprisingly unsettling. All credit here to Douglas Tait and especially contortionist Twisty Troy (Troy James) who do stellar work playing the character haunting the cave. A scene played out through a thermal camera is particularly creepy.
Malibu Horror Story is a fun, creepy horror tale which makes for fine Halloween watching. A solid new addition to the Found Footage hall of fame.
Malibu Horror Story played at Grimmfest 2022