Imagine, if you will, a found footage film. I know, I know. I can hear your groans from here. The tired tropes of unscripted, “uncut”, raw from the SD card footage are an independent filmmaker’s dream, but can leave audiences, and especially horror geeks like me, yearning for anything new, different, or valuable. Now imagine that this film you’ve been looking for – with the perfect balance of humor, cliche, and real visceral horror is right here, in The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan.
Lost Footage presents itself as unedited footage from a found camera previously owned by Leah Sullivan (Anna Stromberg). These untouched clips follow Leah, an investigative journalism student filming her midterm project in a small town in Massachusetts. The Mulcahy Murders are the only thing of note that have ever happened in Lutton, Mass., and the 30th anniversary of this cold case is just around the corner. Leah sets out to solve the case, utilizing the help of a local police officer who had “the biggest crush on her in high school”. Thankfully for the viewer, there is tons of charm and chemistry in the relationship between Leah and Patrick (Burt Grinstead), and Patrick plays excellent good cop to Leah’s inexperienced investigative journalist. With Patrick’s police clearance and know-how, Leah is able to gather information that blows the Mulcahy case wide open. What she thought was a cold case may not be so cold after all, and the time comes when her blind ambition leads her into something much bigger than she ever could have imagined.
Filled with incredible visual gags, this film had me hooked within the first 4 minutes of footage. It’s not easy to “get” me with simple jump scares and horror, and we have all seen the same tricks so many times we’ve become skeptics. Lost Footage made me excited to watch horror, in a way I haven’t experienced in recent years, particularly in the found footage genre. I found myself seeking the scares, spending time dissecting every frame of film looking for the “gotcha”, sitting at the edge of my seat both too anxious to watch and too excited to look away.
The claustrophobic nature that comes naturally with handheld camera footage is a great asset to the visual story of this film. The “something’s behind you” feeling is ever present, and I found myself constantly expecting something to appear in the very corner of frame or in the flash of a camera pan. This film benefits from not seeing too much of anything, which is an often overlooked key to pulling off this kind of visual storytelling. What we do see, however, evokes a completely buyable, real, and visceral world in which you’re completely immersed. I found my heart pounding and my breath short right along with Patrick and Leah during the climax of the film, and found myself holding my breath more than once waiting for a release of tension that would simply never come.
I was so transfixed that I kept wishing I could rewind, asking myself if I actually saw something or if I myself, like Leah and Patrick, was becoming so caught up in the spooky ghost story of the Mulcahys that I was anticipating something being in every mirror, around every corner, behind every curtain. The pace of scares is consistent and keeps the viewer on edge, especially as you’re seeing the story unfold in a way our leads are not – there is so much left unseen, even as Patrick takes time to review footage with Leah during an interview segment. The creeping terror that you know what’s coming and that they do not awakens the inner shouts of “don’t go in there!” in the viewer and raises the stakes even higher.
Lost Footage was clearly a labor of love for this skeleton crew. Everyone was pulling double or even triple duty, from our Leah, Anna Stromberg, who also served as a writer and even cinematographer, to director Burt Grinstead, who just so happens to play Patrick. Every performance in this small cast is a winner, and the so called “small parts” of townspeople and relatives of the Mulcahys that Leah interviews are filled by larger than life actors. The impact of a small crew, a small cast, and a simple but effective concept really drove home that the found footage genre can be revitalized in the simplest yet most refreshing of ways. Lost Footage is an absolute must watch for anyone who (like me) finds themselves jaded and burnt out on horror full of jump scares and orchestra stabs. Just don’t look behind you.
THE LOST FOOTAGE OF LEAH SULLIVAN has it’s theatrical premiere December 11th in Los Angeles.