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Film Review: The Death of April (2012)

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SYNOPSIS:

Meagan Mullen, freshly moved in her new home, keeps in touch with her friends and family through a video blog. As her entries (and her life) become more complex and emotional, strange things begin to happen in her room: and the camera captures all of it. Told primarily from the point of view of an ordinary wireless webcam, The Death of April documents the unsettling activity in an otherwise average girl’s bedroom – and the mysteries that surround it.

REVIEW:

Found footage is one of the easiest kinds of horror films for new or independent directors to make.  Less work is necessary for the format.  The necessity for a clean, polished look is no longer present, as the footage tends to come from a hand held camera.  The less polished it is, the more realistic that element of the movie ends up being.  For viewers, however, found footage can become much more of a nuisance than a pleasure.  Without a story or good writing to back up what is happening, this style of film making can just be another problem with an already hurting movie.  It takes a good idea to make found footage worthwhile.

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The Death of April puts a spin on the played out style in a way that I can only compare to shows like Cold Case Files.  Rather than portray itself as being a quickly edited together version of raw footage that was found following a horrific event, the story is shown in the form of a fake, fully edited documentary.  It documents the life of Megan Mullen (Katarina Hughes) as she moves to New Jersey to begin work as a teaching assistant.  She soon begins to believe that her home is haunted.  In the end, it leads to a horrific event that we have been waiting for the entire movie.

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What stood out about the movie was that it had the elements of your average found footage movie while also bringing in the documentary aspects to make it feel fresh.  Megan Mullen documents her move to New Jersey through regular video blog posts to her friends and family.  Intercut with the video blog entries are talking head segments with her friends, family, and other people connected to the events.  These interview segments give different perspectives to the events that are unfolding around Megan and start to blur the lines of what seems like a clear cut supernatural story.

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The narrative structure of The Death of April works well to slowly bring more details of the story to light.  Instead of laying out what happened at the start of the film, it is more about building the character and showing her up until the point of no return.  The movie is about how Megan changed and how that may have caused what happened near the end of the movie.  It isn’t about the supernatural stuff happening to her, but how the other characters sensed her change in personality throughout the time that the events occurred.  They turn her life in New Jersey into a myth, clouded with the mystery and intrigue that we see play out as an audience to this series of events.

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There aren’t too many problems with The Death of April.  The only problems of note stem from the praise I have been giving it.  Though the narrative structure is an interesting twist on the found footage style, it doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for a creepy vibe to build up.  Any tension in the movie is cut by the talking head segments and the differing ideas on what was happening.  These alternate opinions also cause the movie to show certain supernatural elements, but never go far enough to make them into big, thrilling horror moments.  The impact is weakened when there is a constant barrage of characters saying that Megan may have been having a mental breakdown and staged the whole series of events.  Add to that the fact that none of the events were all that big to begin with, and you have a movie that has an interesting style, but no weight to it.

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Style and structure are the strong points of The Death of April.  The way it turned a basic, common horror storyline into a documentary that would normally be seen on television was a refreshing break.  The problem was that adding this interesting detail into the mix weakened the horror of it.  The movie is half of something great.  It has the building blocks and potential to be much better.  The Death of April is still a movie that is worthy of a watch, though it wouldn’t hurt for the idea to be tried again with a bigger budget and better quality.

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