When Marble Hornets, the YouTube serial, came on the scene, it was welcomed with open arms. The response to it was frenzied. People hung on every clip, eagerly waiting for the next one, but dissecting the current one frame by frame to uncover hidden clues. Its first season even received praise from the late critic Roger Ebert. Even after it finished telling its online story, there was a crowd-funded attempt at getting a feature-length film made. Guess what? They surpassed their humble goal by tens of thousands of dollars. This is the story of Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story, and it’s a scary one, but not for the reasons you’d hope.
Done (for the most part) in true, Marble Hornets/found footage style, this new story follows an ambitious, local news team in desperate need of finding a new story to take them to the national level. Cameraman Milo (Chris Marquette) is always filming, partially because it is job, but also because he is infatuated with his coworker, news reporter Sara (Alexandra Breckenridge), and spies on her on his spare time. Not at all creepy. He is threatened when Charlie (Jake McDorman) joins their team. Together they discover a missing person’s case and a crate of strange home videos that get progressively weirder. Milo investigates the strange figure in the suit, who we know as the Operator (Doug Jones), that seems to be appearing in a majority of the films.
Ever since spotting that entity, Milo has noticed odd things happening around him. Luckily, his profession as a cameraman gives him the perfect excuse to have a pile of video equipment to record everything all the time. Isn’t that convenient for the story? Anyway, Milo gets marked by the Operator, and shows his colleagues (who are now sleeping together) the footage he discovered. They don’t believe him, that is until the Operator appears to them and relentlessly follows them. They are forced to go on the run and hunt down the family of from the home videos in hopes of finding a way to stop the Operator and be saved from it’s evil.
This is not the Marble Hornets we have come to know and love/fear. There are many deviations from the story and filming style that make you feel this movie is less for true fans, but more in hopes of setting up a franchise of future sequels with the Operator as the villain. There are instances where it betrays its found footage style of filming just to give us a lens-less camera-less, omnipresent point of view. That I don’t mind as much because it was one of the lesser sins, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg of the web serial story making it to the big screen. This incarnation of Marble Hornets introduces new elements to the existing Operator/Slender Man mythos, like territorial marking of people (with the O and X through it), and only being able to see the Operator through a camera, even if it’s standing right in front of you.
Since it is a film, there isn’t enough time to let each scene breathe, which is where the web series excelled. The web series was able to build up a good scare by drawing out each scene and putting you in a false state of security. The film, with it’s limited 90-minute runtime, doesn’t have that luxury. More often than not, the responsibility falls on the dog to jump into a scene and try to scare us. It happens so often, that they should be given a co-starring credit. I didn’t know what to expect when I heard legendary costume actor Doug Jones (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) was going to take on the iconic role of the Operator, but perhaps I set my expectations too high. The Operator is not known for his verbosity or even for walking, so he delivered exactly what was expected of him: standing in most scenes motionless and soundless. Having such a well-known actor play a role that could have been played by any person is such a waste of his talent, but he gives us exactly what we’re expecting, which is still disappointing.
The YouTube serial-based film Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story has come out for a limited theatrical release, but after seeing the film, its life might be much more limited than anticipated. As a horror film, it’s very run of the mill relying on jump scares rather than building up the suspense like its predecessor did so well. Like the film, any attempt at making this into a long-running horror franchise may have died with the characters.
RATING: ★★★★(4/10 stars)