Release Date: January 19, 2018 (Limited and VOD)
Director: Johnny Martin
MPAA Rating: NR
Runtime: 84 minutes
The genuine artistry and commitment to style that is on display in the eclectic found-footage genre is often underappreciated by the general public. While the economics of the genre (both in production and viability) have lead to a irksome over-saturation in the market, the standouts of the genre are recognized rightfully for their fidelity to realism and their patience and creativity in deliberately limiting their visual language in cinematic storytelling to a singular, handheld perspective.
They may be cheap to produce and can spawn from the barest of concepts, but when followed through and obedient to the nature of the genre, any found-footage film can, at the very least, hold an audience’s attention through its visceral approach to genre cinema.
Enter Johnny Martin’s Delirium, which, through its own incompetence invents a subgenre no one asked for (that I will be dubbing “Lazy Found Footage”). Lazy Found Footage is the result when a filmmaker wants the visceral scares inherent to the limited, do-it-yourself aesthetic of found-footage filmmaking but cannot find the motivation or discipline to commit to the stylistic decision of one handheld camera grounded to a participating character.
Instead, in films like Delirium, we partake in numerous and unmotivated jarring cuts from the POV of the designated camera holder to the immersion-breaking perspective of another handheld camera belonging to the cinematographer of the film itself. Lazy Found Footage is normally made by those who legitimately believe the FF genre is a gimmick to be exploited rather than an aesthetic that takes a modicum of investment in order to make a mishmash of shaky-cam footage palatable, justified and capable of telling a story with limited resources. Delirium is none of these things because it could not be bothered to put in the effort.
You first realize you’re watching a Lazy Found Footage film when you are confused as to how many characters have cameras for the first 20 minutes before it dawns on you how half of the handheld shots you are seeing are not tied to a character like the other half. Both are technically filming the Hell Gang, a random group of twenty-somethings, who participate in a hazing ceremony – where, to enter into the ranks, one must walk up to a haunted mansion in the middle of the blackened forest in the dead of night.
Simple fodder for this type of horror film, their potential latest recruit never made it back to the campfire, and their search, of course, leads them deep into the mansion and its dark history. As foretold by the expository campfire scene beforehand, the mansion houses the spirits of Mr. and Mrs. Brandt, who hung their 13 children in the basement so they could be a family forever.
Morbid predictability aside, the premise seems modest enough that a traditional found-footage horror film could have been made from it if Martin had the discipline. Sadly, he resorts to horribly contrived elements to get his cheap scares rather than allowing them to be created organically from the aesthetic.
He loads his soundtrack with an overbearing score and oppressive sound effects, which, when heard through a character’s camera, are extremely out of place and destroy whatever fidelity the POV was attempting to establish. He cuts incessantly for stretches of time without acknowledging the breaks in continuity and cuts to shots of his camera-holding character much too frequently.
He has his actors all speak at once, running off clichéd horror sayings over one another in indecipherable gibberish, only to be broken up by a jump scare of sorts. And he routinely fakes out his audience with members of the Hell Gang repeatedly partaking in jumpscares themselves.
Speaking of scares, this is one of the film’s least inspired elements, and that is saying something for the originator of Lazy Found Footage. Once the gang is inside the house, the film can only recycle tired ghost tropes and is incapable of finding an internal consistency to its hauntings. The Brandt supernatural phenomenon is whatever Martin was capable of producing in After Effects it seems, as we are privy to ghost children with color-corrected eyes, apparitions appearing and disappearing, possession and hallucinations, all of which are not handled well enough to be fear inducing in the slightest.
The Gang feels disconnected from its surroundings so that this ghostly activity feels impromptu rather than as the film’s proposed mythology. With these characters barely registering as individual personalities at all from the start, there is no stake to the horror content and no style to back it up, so we are left with nothing to hold onto for a desperate 84 minutes of feeling around in the dark until something jumps out and goes “boo.”
While enduring Delirium I was reminded of The Blair Witch Project, and it’s not because it lifted Heather’s confession scene. Far from being about three kids walking around in the forest where nothing happens, I was reminded of the deep commitment to the handheld aesthetic, how it built its supernatural elements organically using its limited means, and how its characters were so developed to the point that their fear and disappearances had weight to them.
Blair Witch will forever be the litmus test for found-footage quality because we can always turn to the impoverished production of that film and say “look what they were capable of doing, and now look what was made for ten times that budget.” Delirium does nothing to stand out from the dozens of other found-footage ghost films that have made this subgenre so grating to mass audiences nowadays. Lazy Found Footage may be a new direction, but it’s a direction that is miles from from its humble 1999 origins.