In HEILSTÄTTEN, a remote and gloomy sanctuary near Berlin a group of YouTubers illegally access the ominous surgery block for a 24-hour challenge they hope will go viral. They learn too soon that they are not alone and not welcome.
So, it’s back, and this may not be the last time. Today’s world of YouTube, POV shots, and vlogs has unavoidably resurrected it back to life in the horror genre, and this most likely won’t be an isolated incident. That’s right, found footage is back and not by an indie horror production company, but by 20th Century Fox (International).
Found footage horror has been vigorously beaten into the ground to such an extent that it ceased to exist, that is until the German horror flick Heilstatten (2018) resuscitated it from its necrosis. Before basically everyone, from production companies and directors to horror fans with nothing to do, took their shot at FF, we were blessed by a few decent efforts, Creep (2004), Paranormal Activity (2007), REC (2007), V/H/S (2012) come to mind, but none really measured up to the first two giants of found footage, Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and then the film that opened the floodgates, The Blair Witch Project (1999).
But current times, 20th Century Fox, and Germany decided to team together to take another thwack at the already pummeled existence of found footage and, unfortunately this is no Blair Witch Project, in fact it isn’t even Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000) (yes, I know Blair Witch 2 is not found footage, it’s a joke).
The movie starts off with the introductions of three different YouTube channels, Marnie’s, which is about facing your fears and has a thousand subscribers, PrankstazTV which has a million subs and is run by two douche bags and a tag-along girl who gets no development what so ever, and Betty’s beauty channel with three million subs.
And this brings us to one of the movie’s major mistakes which seems as though it was intentional in order to drive home the theme of the film, the characters. They are not only unlikeable, they are interchangeable, and because of this, the audience isn’t really invested into what actually happens to them, making the movie boring. On top of that, there’s really no growth in any of the characters which would allow for us to identify with them, they mostly just stay superficial until they die. One of the Prankstaz has his “I backstabbed my friend; I’m not leaving without him” revelation but it doesn’t really work within the film. The only exception to this is Marnie, played genuinely by Sonja Gerhardt, who unfortunately gets washed out within the other characters at times.
In order to get more views, likes, and subscribers, the Prankstaz challenge Betty to see who can stay overnight in an old abandoned haunted WWI hospital. They illegally gain access through a close friend who works at the hospital as a part-time tour guide who also participates in the challenge named Theo.
I have to admit, this is where found footage actually makes sense for this movie. Instead of paranormal investigators or some other reason that doesn’t fully make sense, the YouTubers are filming everything for their YouTube channels and have set up cameras everywhere. Because that’s so prevalent these days, found footage actually works in accordance of the times, and it makes so much sense, that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a resurgence of found footage movies because of it.
Now, to raise the level of seclusion and instead of the regular trope of being out of cell phone range, one of the rules of the challenge is “no internet use” which means everyone must leave their phones in the cars. The group then needs to cut a locked chain “that’s never been there before” with bolt cutters to enter the gate, gain access to the hospital, and set up the cameras and generator inside the restricted building of the hospital where not even the tours go. Getting creepy right? You can see where this is going.
So, the group sets up their equipment and, what do you know, creepy supernatural things start to happen…but wait, they aren’t supernatural at all, just pranks on the other people by, who else, the PrankstazTV members, because they’re just a couple of wild and crazy guys! But hold on a second! Now some supernatural events happen that the Prankstaz didn’t set up, but the group doesn’t believe the Prankstaz when they claim it wasn’t them! Oh, the confusion!
Being the wild and crazy guys that they are, the Prankstaz have another YouTuber show up unannounced who dresses up as some kind of ghost and jumps out and scares the bejesus out of Betty. The Prankstaz think it’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to society and this anonymous YouTuber leaves. I bet you can’t guess what happens to this anonymous YouTuber who shows up part way through the movie without any introduction or development….
Surprisingly, this guy dies. This anonymous YouTuber gets lost trying to get back to the cars, goes to investigate a noise he hears in a different building (he’s filming himself the whole time), and is pushed down some cement stairs by something supernatural and perishes a gravity induced death.
Things get a little too real for the group because of some paranormal events and they decide it’s time to leave. Betty and the Pranksta with blonde hair (the other has brown hair, I have absolutely no idea what their names are and I watched this movie 3 times) decide to walk to the cars and drive them as close as they can so the group can load all the equipment and leave. That seems easy enough, right?
But when they get there, the cars won’t start, the cell phones are missing, and the gate is chained but the chain has “no beginning and no end” and looks like it was wrapped around the gate and forged right there, not needing a lock to lock it.
The chain not needing a lock baffles Pranksta number one, as it should, but he later explains to the group that they can’t leave because of it. This is particularly puzzling considering THEY HAVE BOLT CUTTERS THAT THEY USED TO OPEN THE GATE IN THE FIRST PLACE! Just use the bolt cutters to cut the chain, man.
On the way back to the hospital, Betty and Pranksta number 1 hear the dead anonymous YouTuber’s phone ring, find his body and run back to tell the others. With this information, it is suggested that they go get anonymous YouTuber’s phone in order to call for help and report the death, which is immediately shot down by Pranksta number 2 because…they are trespassing. I was unaware that trespassing is a felony with a 25 to life sentence accompanying it in Germany.
Now, I’m not an expert on the German judicial system, but I suspect that reporting the death of your friend, or the charge for not reporting a death, may trump any minor trespassing charge. I mean, trespassing doesn’t even warrant an arrest most of the time, but who knows, maybe Germany takes trespassing seriously. I better just go with Pranksta number 2’s interpretation of the law, he seems like a smart guy.
You know what happens from here, people get scared, start to split up, and end up dying horrible deaths. The deaths and the blood scenes are actually pretty well done, as would be expected with a major production company like 20th Century Fox International. And I have to give credit where credit is due, the director, Michael David Pate, really created tension and anticipation through out the movie, and it had a couple good scares.
But the twist, the twist was ridiculous. After you get over the initial shock of the twist, and immediately after it happens, you realize just how absolutely ridiculous it is. However, it works in the message that is alluded to multiple times throughout the film which is that these types of YouTube channels are stupid more or less, and are dumbing down our youth. People have access to more information than ever before but they waste their time with this type of garbage.
There’s also almost a double twist at the end. That’s right, the rare and never done well double twist, neither of which I’m going to ruin for you in case you end up seeing this movie.
Is it that bad, no it’s not. And the special effects and atmospheric tension are good, I just couldn’t get into it. It was 89 minutes which felt like an eternity to me, but I’m sure some people like or will like this movie, I’m just not one of them.