Set in the universe of the Marble Hornet horror web series, Always Watching maintains some of the fun elements of its amateur source material, but is plagued by lackluster sound mixing and an over usage of the antagonist.
The Marble Hornets series is based off the internet creature mythos of Slenderman, a faceless man wearing a suit that stalks children and possesses people when it comes time to have them murder each other.
The film takes place some time after the current events of the ongoing Marble Hornets YouTube series, and follows cameraman Milo (Chis Marquette, The Girl Next Door) and his news team comprised of onetime lover Sara (Alexandra Breckinridge, The Walking Dead) and hotshot Charlie (Jake McDorman, Greek), as the three investigate some mysterious tapes left behind by a MIA family of three. What the reporters don’t recognize is that they are getting way deeper into their investigation than they intended by inviting an evil entity into their lives, affectionately called The Operator.
The three acts of this film take viewers on a roller coaster ride of so-so jump scares and interesting horror sequences, all peppered with just the right amount of character development. It’s a shame that the film takes such a dip during Milo’s solo discoveries in the second act of the film, and it all comes down to one thing: showing too much of The Operator.
It’s one thing to get the audience geared up for an hour and a half of stalking with a cold open double murder. However, once good ol’ Slendy made his 15th appearance on-screen not even halfway through the film, it became clear that the direction warranted too much of the film to fall into the bland territory of not leaving enough of the horror to the viewer’s imagination.
The fundamental differences between the Marble Hornets short story entries and Always Watching is that when the web series wants to show The Operator, those moments are genuinely horrifying, and have come after ample downtime. Also of note is the expert audio ripping and video tearing done in the web series, both of which are always either overused or chinsy in Always Watching.
As trope filled as it may be, the film is saved by an impromptu road trip sequence that leads to some of The Operator’s best moments. While the lasting impressions of Always Watching won’t come from the many lame jump scares, the fandangled set pieces and plot execution of the third act both fit into a nice, niche formula.
The cast, led by American Horror Story veteran Breckinridge, was carefully crafted to fit in the mold of the Marble Hornets web series. While Marquette holds the bulk of the emotional weight of the film (and McDorman the sex appeal), his cohorts couldn’t help but reuse an in-tandem shocked hand-to-the-mouth reaction at every third-act twist.
What makes Always Watching worth watching? The extension of the Marble Hornets universe will feel like a well earned, yet slightly off-base Easter egg for the oh-so-patient fans of the web series. As for anyone else looking for a fun, found-footage horror romp whose expertise relies on the viewer’s imagination? Try the original The Blair Witch Project instead.
Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story is currently available on various VOD services, and has a limited theatrical release on May 15.
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