Rating: 4 out of 5.

Bad found footage horror can be easily accessed by consulting one’s streaming service of choice, often associated with some of the worst that the genre has to offer. The thing about this subgenre is that when the tone and execution is really nailed, an instant-classic is born, and it feels nearly effortless. I am looking at movies such as The Blair Witch Project, Megan is Missing, Spree, and As Above So Below—one thing these movies have in common is the way they weave realism into their original-yet-terrifying concepts to masterful effect. Despite looking so easy for some, found footage is notoriously difficult to get right. Malibu Horror Story understands what works and what doesn’t, and there is simply no time to get bogged down in the stupidity of the character’s actions. Writer/director Scott Slone delivers on exactly what is promised: an intense masterclass on how to spook one’s audience into submission.

Following the 2012 disappearance of four high-school teenagers at a Malibu canyon, a modern-day documentary crew of paranormal researchers sets out to unearth the answers behind this long-debated mystery. The group is comprised of: Josh (Teen Wolf’s Dylan Sprayberry), the documentary’s host and director; Matt (Robert Bailey Jr.), the equipment tech; Ashley (Valentina de Angelis), the researcher; and Jessica (Rebecca Forsythe), the editor. They travel to the cave (one that does not appear on any county land records!), armed with motion-activated still cameras and ghost boxes. Their mission is to host a successful EVP session, and at best, they wish to contact a spirit with photographic evidence of the beyond.

At times, I felt like I was watching a news report, and I mean this in a very flattering way. Malibu Horror Story carries an authenticity that puts in the time to establish its mythology before spinning wildly off the rails with a final act that is impossible not to love. The flavor of horror itself sends chills up my spine just thinking about it. Scott Slone dove deep into Native American folklore and the rich history of the land in depicting Skinwalkers. There is nothing scarier than a creature that can literally rip one’s soul from their body and negate any hope for an afterlife. The back-cracking creepy-crawling abomination at the center of Malibu Horror Story is freakish indeed. The effects are excellent—I noticed a minimal amount of CGI. From a purely visual standpoint, Slone utilizes tons of effective scares wrung from the varied visual style, including a heat vision-POV that fills the whole screen, and immaculate use of lighting techniques to ratchet up the tension. A framing device of the zoom-in to the center of a dreamcatcher acts as a bold creative choice.

Admirably, it took ten years to get Malibu Horror Story made, which is a major accomplishment in itself. Any film crossing the finish line from inception to reality deserves to be commended, but a decade-long production is worthy of a standing ovation. Perhaps the fact that the lights in my apartment flickered while watching this may have contributed to how freaked out I was by the time it ended. Whatever the case, Malibu Horror Story is a glossy, effectively-made horror flick that mixes filmmaking techniques. It feels like a bold step forward for a subgenre that too often falls into the same cycles of repetition. Carrying the specificity of Native American folklore, Malibu Horror Story is too devilishly effective to resist.

Malibu Horror Story screened at the 2022 Unnamed Footage Festival.

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