Yesterday’s film, Rucker, involved a documentary filmmaker becoming involved with a serial killer and his crimes. Today’s film, Death Cast, is the flip side of that trope. The making of a horror film where the deaths are real. That’s an idea that goes back at least as far as 1975’s controversial Snuff and the 1979 film Effects featuring Tom Savini and Joe Pilato. More recently there’s been Pieces of Talent, Incredible Violence, Reel and Reel 2 among many others.
The film opens with a warning that we’re watching footage of an unknown origin that might contain real footage and absolving the distributors of all blame for these possibly real murders. This doesn’t mean that Death Cast is a traditional found footage film though. It has been edited, a soundtrack added, etc. Is found finished footage a term? If it is, that’s what Death Cast is claiming to be.
After a bit of audition and behind the scenes footage the film’s cast Gabe (Andrés Erickson, Dopesick), Tiffany (Lacy Hartselle, The Alpha Test, Ouija Craft), Mallory (Hedy Nasser), BG (Marvin Laviolette, Crazy Lake), Stefanie (Danielle Stratton, Mind Heist), and Elway (Kyle Swanson) are dropped off in the woods to begin the shoot. Instead, someone begins shooting at them with a bow and arrow.
Since Death Cast’s film within film is being shot as an immersive experience with hidden cameras, etc. the cast are all “in character” until they realize what’s going on. I can only hope writer/director Bobby Marinelli meant for their dialogue in these scenes to sound as cringe inducingly bad as it does. It is fitting, it though as it sounds like it came from a bad teen horror movie, written by somebody thirty years older than the characters speaking it.
There’s an interesting scene shortly after the first pair of deaths when we see a man, face pixelated out and voice distorted being coerced into signing a contract to carry out “any and all orders received”. Yes, he’s the killer, or rather one of them. And while the scene is creepy, shot in an almost documentary style black and white, who puts a contract for multiple murders into writing let alone film the signing of it?
My other complaint with Death Cast is that it all takes place in one day, so all of it takes place in the bright Florida sunlight. While this certainly makes for easier, and cheaper, shooting it robs the film of the suspense of not knowing what’s out there in the dark. And creates a couple of scenes where the killer seems to appear by magic in the middle of an open space. Considering the killers are dressed in black robes, this seems like a badly missed opportunity.
Apart from that Death Cast mostly hits the mark as the survivors try to escape through what seems to be the middle of nowhere while being tracked by drones and stalked by killers. While the kills themselves are mostly basic stabbings and throat slashings, the film does feature a diabolically simple, but effective booby trap.
While it never really manages to break free of its genre, and the found footage format tells you how it will all end, Death Cast is a perfectly acceptable horror thriller. Found footage fans may well find it even better than that. It has the good sense to keep itself short, and at seventy seven minutes is over before it starts to drag. Given what’s out there, you could certainly do a lot worse.