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LandLocked (2022) Review

LandLocked is an interesting twist on both the found footage film and the time travel film, one that combines reality and fiction in an unsettling manner. Much like Kyle Edward Ball did with Skinamarink, writer/director Paul Owens (Penny Arcade: The Series, Double Fine Adventure) shot the film in his own childhood home. Owens however takes it even farther, he interweaves actual home movies from his and his siblings Mason and Jeff’s childhood and cast not only them but their father Jeff as well, all playing fictionalized versions of themselves.

Jeff has arranged for the family home to be demolished a year after his death. We learn this via his voice on a tape spanning several years of the boys’ childhood. Apparently, he’s been dead for a while because he tells them they need to get anything they want to save soon. Mason is the first to arrive, and at first not much happens beyond a woman (Jane Gale) who lived there before the Owens did, stopping by for a last look.

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Actually, from a certain point of view, it’s fair to say not very much happens at all during most of LandLocked’s running time. The film is an extremely slow burn, and even after Mason realizes the video camera he found can see into the past there aren’t any big dramatic events or special effects. Instead, the film focuses on Mason’s growing obsession with not just seeing and reliving his past but documenting it through the camera’s eye.

While that might make for an interesting short, without some sort of conflict that would run out of steam long before it hit feature length. And eventually, Mason does run into the unexpected consequences of his actions as the day of the house’s demolition closes in. It’s not exactly nail-biting tension but it does provide a wicked jump scare and the narrative structure needed to propel LandLocked to its conclusion.

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But when it comes down to it, Paul Owens hasn’t so much made a narrative film as he has a meditation on the nature of memories and the trap that nostalgia, especially nostalgia based on false remembrances, can be. That’s something anyone who came from a troubled background and/or has/had a complicated relationship with their family can relate to all too well, and what gives the film its power.

In a sense, LandLocked could be called a ghost story, a film about the way memories can haunt us, and the way the reality that underlies those memories can do even worse, acting as a boogeyman intent on destroying the narrative we’ve created for ourselves. Once again, the real horror comes from within, the demons we carry with us, rather than from an external threat.

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LandLocked is Owens’ first feature and probably owes its strange structure to his background in documentary work. It took ten years to create this blending of actual footage of the family’s history and the present-day material. Its use of that footage creates a feeling of reality that a film entirely shot with actors, no matter how talented, couldn’t match. There’s no replacing the actual connection between the performers then and now.

Obviously this isn’t a film for everyone, LandLocked is art horror and will have many of those expecting a more conventional film looking at their watches. But those who like a properly executed slow burn, or get hooked by the film’s odd tone, will be rewarded when the sense of unease starts to build and grow.

Dark Sky Films will release LandLocked in select theatres as well as to VOD and Digital platforms on January 6th. And if you’re looking for more films like this, FilmTagger can offer a few suggestions.

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