Newlyweds Altair (Diana Bovio) and Manuel (Rolando Breme) playfully document the start of their lives together in a new home with a Super-8 camera. Their marital bliss does not last as strange occurrences start to occur. A mysterious toy neither recognizes shows up in their home. Their new puppy Carlo goes missing. A mass death of birds around their home. Soon Altair appears to be affected. What starts with a bloody nose and sleepwalking twists its way to madness as she builds a black brick door in their bedroom, has bouts of catatonia, and speaks of seeing angels. As Manuel sets out to help his wife, he and friend Callahan (Guillermo Callahan) continue to film the ordeal. Answers don’t come easy, particularly with Altair’s sister Tere (Blanca Alarcón) being cagey about the family’s past. When Altair and Manuel seemingly vanish, all that remains are the 8mm tapes of the ordeal.
1974 is the feature debut of writer/director Victor Dryere. He offers up an impressive found-footage period piece shot entirely in Super-8, creating a look that is both stylish and authentic. It helps grip viewers immediately in the moment, while also creating an eerie tension, like watching an old home movie in real time. I often think I’m done with the found-footage subgenre, finding all it’s tricks to be exhausted, but every now and then a film like 1974 will come along and surprise me with how it effectively utilizes the found-footage format. That’s not to say it doesn’t fall victim to the common problem of stretching the credibility of the format–it does in moments when the camera is too well-placed or when a character really should/would have put the camera down–but those moments are few and never too egregious.
The effectiveness of the film resides in how it lingers are the unknown and unseen to generate anxiety. It doesn’t much rely on cheap scares. Both the characters and the viewers are forced to ask “What am I seeing?” with great unease, not unlike found-footage pioneer, The Blair Witch Project. When it leans heavier on the roots of possession films, directly referencing The Exorcist and later re-imagining one of that films more horrific moments to a more gruesome extent, it’s not as effective. When the film rests on its own inventiveness, with a slow build toward a bat-shit ending you won’t see coming, it truly shines. 1974 boldly re-defines what a possession can mean, and will delight horror fans as much as it scares them.
The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival is a badass genre film festival taking place in Brooklyn, NY October 12-15, 2017.