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Film Review: The 16th Episode (2019)

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SYNOPSIS:

Three You tubers struggling to get more views on their adventure channel, travel to the mythical city of Casablanca, unaware that it hides a terrifying secret.

REVIEW:

YouTube can be a harsh place when battling for views. You have the millions of people who just want to be entertained/informed/converted/horrified. If you don’t keep triggering those lovely brain chemicals in the viewers, they will go find another channel featuring a cat doing underwater basket weaving.

At what point, as a creator, do you draw the line? What will you refuse to do or endure for those sweet, sweet views? In pursuit of that high, do you even know when you have already gone too far?

Heavy questions. A bit too heavy for “The 16th Episode”, but that doesn’t mean such ideas are ignored. Jerome Cohen-Olivar’s film leans towards action instead of introspection.

We open with a crew of three shooting the closing of an episode of a travel vlog. A local kid runs through the shot and grabs the smartphone from the host’s hands. The chase is on through narrow alleys and backstreets of the foreign city they are in. Soon, they are face to face with a local crime lord.

Cameraman Mike and sound guy Einar handle things poorly. Helen, the vlog host, steps in and speaks with the crime lord alone. She convinces him to return the phone with a few words. Yet, as he turns to get the phone, we see a look flick across Helen’s face that tell us something more than sad eyes changed his mind.

On to the next location, the city of Casablanca. They arrive at a home of a French woman who seems to have actively sought their business. Well, they do have a following on YouTube, so a fan isn’t unreasonable. Right?

While shooting material for their upcoming episode, the group is invited to a wedding by a guide. But the wedding seems more like a ceremony focused on Helen, who, in an effort to increase views, throws herself completely into the wild, sensual dance that starts when she enters the circle. Then a goat is trotted out.

Helen starts acting distracted. She pukes up blood and speaks in tongues. She likes attacking people. Well, she seems happier, at least.

If you think possession is the only thing going on in “The 16th Episode”, you will be selling the film short. Everything seems to take a very odd turn during the film, and that is the best thing the movie has in its favor. Instead of dragging out the usual possession tropes, the film spins in at least a couple of different directions before you hit the final credits.

The film uses humor well to keep the viewer engaged and to keep the wild events on a relatable basis. We have three people who have been working closely for a while, and their interactions fuel most of the comedy. Not only does the humor keep the horrific stuff fresh, but you learn to like the characters in spite of their individual quirks.

Unfortunately, the uneven tone tends to pull the viewer out of the experience. One minute, straight-up horror, then some self-referential comments, then mini comedy routines. While all these things CAN work together, often each element overrides another or clashes with the bit before. You can feel a bit worn out from being pulled this way and that, as well as a touch confused as to the final intent of the director/writer.

At least the acting is good for a low budget film. Einar Kuusk and Cody Heuer, as Einar and Mark, have a wonderful chemistry together. Even when they are at each other’s throats, you still sense they care about each other. Their comic timing is solid as well.

Rebecca Ramon as Helen is a bit of mixed bag. Before she is possessed, Ramon seems subdued. Well…there is a reason for that, but the mood is almost confused and/or bored. However, AFTER she is possessed (and a couple of times before), the actress comes alive in an almost pure physical performance. From the rather sexy dance scene to launching herself at people, Ramon seems to revel in using her body. Hell, I’d love to watch her play an action hero. More interesting than Cynthia Rothrock.

The 16th Episode” does a number of things right: likeable but believable characters, uses its location well without insulting the native culture, moves at a steady pace, attempts something fresh in a “found footage” swamped world. Yet, the uneven tone drags down what is a very entertaining film that is worth a glance if you have seen everything else out there.

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