REEL is a found footage horror film written and directed by the mysteriously named SlasherVictim666. Adding to the intrigue, REEL features “real life” found footage video critic Todd Smith, who you can find on YouTube (search for “Todd Smith Found Footage”). In REEL, Todd Smith is the subject of obsession for deranged stalker and anti-hero SlasherVictim666. This film is no walk in the park, as the horror elements and gore ramp up to levels that are reminiscent of the found footage films House with 100 Eyes (2013) and the “August Underground” series.
REEL follows the parallel lives of the two main characters, Todd Smith (played by Mike Estes) and SlasherVictim666, both of whom grew up in the same hometown in Ontario Canada. Todd Smith and SlasherVictim666 do not know each other growing up, but they do share similar family acceptance issues that ultimately drive them to leave their hometown and move to the same city.
REEL features “real life” found footage video critic Todd Smith, who you can find on YouTube
Todd Smith is self-absorbed and narcissistic, but underneath it all he is a genuinely sincere person with good intent. He has a chip on his shoulder, the remnants of a bad childhood that ultimately becomes the instrument of his own undoing. Todd Smith has a fond appreciation for found footage films, posting semi-regular film reviews on YouTube. Scattered amongst Todd’s film reviews are video diary entries, where Todd Smith airs his disdain for his family, openly bashing and ridiculing them.
SlasherVictim666 is the victim of a dysfunctional family (the Mckuttles) and spends his childhood feeling like an outsider. He has a penchant for filmmaking and is in a constant struggle to gain acceptance and affirmation from his family for his skills as a filmmaker. The films created by SlasherVictim666 and his family fall well outside the realm of social accepted norms – the Mckuttles film the stalking, capture, torture, and slow death of unwitting victims.
The worlds of Todd Smith and SlasherVictim666 collide when SlasherVictim666 happens upon Todd Smith’s YouTube channel and watches his found footage film reviews and video diaries, learning that they are both from the same hometown and now live in the same city. Once SlasherVictim666 sees Todd Smith’s videos, he immediately feels a connection and gravitates towards Todd Smith, realizing they are of the same vein.
SlasherVictim666 is very selective of the subjects he chooses to star in his films, and sees Todd Smith as the perfect person for his next project. In one of his YouTube videos, Todd Smith poignantly says, “Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that and make my own found footage film or even an awesome horror film, that’s ultimately what I want to do.” As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.
The films created by SlasherVictim666 and his family fall well outside the realm of social accepted norms – the Mckuttles film the stalking, capture, torture, and slow death of unwitting victims.
Found Footage Filming Reason
Employing a plausible filming reason is paramount to maintaining the illusion of reality in a found footage film. To this end, the filming reasons used in REEL are nothing short of perfect. Every scene from the start of the film through the closing credits is well conceived and perfectly executed.
Todd Smith’s narcissistic nature is the impetus driving him to film and post not only his found footage film reviews, but every aspect of his personal life for the world to see. As the director and cinematographer of REEL, SlasherVictim666 is both stalking and filming Todd Smith day-and-night for the film we’re watching. In fact, SlasherVictim666 goes the extra mile, incorporating Todd Smith’s YouTube entries, home movies of Todd Smith’s childhood, Mckuttle family home movies, and actual excerpts from some of Todd Smith’s favorite horror films.
REEL is presented as a series of chapters, where each chapter presents found footage from the POV of either Todd Smith or SlasherVictim666, brilliantly weaving a story that this nothing short of genius. At the helm of the film is SlasherVictim666, who is assembling this great masterpiece to finally prove his worth as a great filmmaker to his family.
Since REEL uses the approach of having been produced by one of the film’s characters, REEL opens the door to using many of the tropes of narrative filmmaking, including creative editing, incidental music, montages, and narrative voiceovers. This novel approach sharply distinguishes REEL from the run-of-the-mill formula used in most found footage films. REEL uses a myriad of found footage sources and multiple overlapping POVs for the same scenes, resulting in a film that decidedly feels like found footage, but with the complexities of an expertly produced narrative.
Since most found footage films limit themselves to one or two cameras capturing disjointed footage, the cinematography is often limited to a linear presentation that can come across as one-note. What we see in REEL is the product of a tried and true filmmaker who sets out with the intent of creating what amounts to a found footage film created using source material which itself is found footage – the net result is a film that is much greater than the sum of its parts.
REEL uses a myriad of found footage sources and multiple overlapping POVs for the same scenes, resulting in a film that decidedly feels like found footage, but with the complexities of an expertly produced narrative.
One example of REEL’s genius is demonstrated in an early scene in the film where we are presented with one of Todd Smith’s YouTube videos, where he says “Hey guys, welcome this is Todd Smith signing in. And as you guys see we are in HD thanks to this awesome loyal fan who bought me this new awesome camera so, so we are no longer on this piece of crap right here, so i want to put a shoutout to SlasherVictim666.” In this brilliant crossover, SlasherVictim666 knows that he’s going to use Todd Smith’s videos in his feature film, so he gifts Todd Smith with a higher quality video camera to ensure the video quality meets his expectations. Embedding this footage in YouTube a year before the release of REEL illustrates an aforethought and level of creativity we don’t come across that frequently in cinema.
Another great touch in REEL is the inclusion of excerpts from the found footage film The Last Broadcast (1998), added by SlasherVictim666 to illustrate one of Todd Smith’s favorite found footage films. Chris Goodwin, owner of the film studio Hidden Horizons that produced REEL, stated that the makers of The Last Broadcast gave permission to use the clip.
While the cinematography is near perfect, there is one scene where Todd Smith breaks into a house monitored with surveillance cameras that has some minor issues. The house surveillance camera user interface message “●REC” and viewfinder border are saved to the recorded footage – these elements display on the live view of today’s surveillance cameras, but are not recorded. Of lesser concern is that the house contains six surveillance cameras recording – while unlikely, the plethora of cameras offers more POVs, and is needed to effectively convey what amounts to a very tense scene. Given the brevity of the surveillance camera footage in the film (only 3 minutes), this issue is trivial in the context of the whole film and the exceptional end-to-end cinematography.
During the scene where Todd Smith is in the house monitored by security cameras, the film transitions between Todd Smith’s handheld camera and the wall mounted security cameras. The scenes from Todd Smith’s handheld camera have clear crisp audio, but when the POV transitions to the surveillance cameras, Todd Smith’s voice is barely audible, as one would expect from a surveillance camera with a low quality integrated microphone located across the room from Todd Smith. Found footage films with multiple camera sources in the same scene usually employ a single audio source that’s used for the audio track despite having multiple camera sources. The use of separate audio sources for each camera illustrates another great attention to detail.
The visually explicit horror elements in REEL take place in the latter part of the film and are in the same league as the best that the horror industry has to offer. The gore and torture in REEL is plentiful, but never comes across as gratuitous. These visually intense scenes are the natural culmination of where the film is headed from the very beginning. Watching these scenes is difficult considering the long history we have with Todd Smith, starting with two years’ worth of found footage film reviews posted on YouTube, through the intense character development in REEL. The explicit visuals effects are amazing and the camerawork is equally impressive during these scenes.
REEL was produced for a scant $4000, but has a production value that feels ten times the size. Accolades go out to the director for demonstrating what one could achieve with a great story, skilled cinematography, a great love for horror, and a dedication to the art.
Incidental Music and Sound Design
Incidental music and overt sound design usually have no place in typical found footage films, but REEL is anything but typical. In the case of REEL, the incidental music is added by the character SlasherVictim666 (who is supposed to have produced REEL), so audio enhancements are totally permissible, if not expected, in this film.
REEL uses a combination of incidental music and sound design, both of which work exceedingly well at setting the tone for the film. The audio is highly successful at evoking the correct emotional state and state of awareness for each scene throughout the film.
REEL was produced for a scant $4000, but has a production value that feels ten times the size.
Acting and Plot
The acting in REEL is nothing short of exceptional. Mike Estes shows his acting chops as the narcissistic and somewhat troubled found footage film critic Todd Smith, whose obsessive compulsive behavior and online ranting gets him into trouble. Although we don’t see much of SlasherVictim666, the pain of his troubled past comes through loud as day through the narrative voiceovers spread throughout REEL.
REEL and House with 100 Eyes share similar plot elements in that they both films include deranged characters obsessed with producing masterpiece films of human torture and murder. Both films have exceptional character development, but where House with 100 Eyes is more expositional, REEL spends more time building a rich back story and emphasizing character development. REEL builds up “real” characters that a viewer can truly empathize with by the end of the film. Even the anti-hero SlasherVictim666 is humanized – notice how I never refer to SlasherVictim666 as the “antagonist” in this review. What’s most impressive is Mike Estes’s acting during the climactic end of REEL. Having gone through Todd Smith’s journey for the first hour, we cannot help but feel for his plight.
REEL is a truly unique addition to the found footage genre and a film absolutely worth seeing. Although not necessary to the plot, I strongly recommend watching some of Todd Smith’s found footage reviews and video diaries on YouTube before watching REEL. Not only are Todd Smith’s videos entertaining, but they will further develop his character which will only increase the enjoyment of REEL.
As the “Found Footage Critic” I can’t help but take this film to heart. I’m in no way biased by this film, but rather intrigued at its complexity and the aforethought that must have gone into executing such a complex plot. After watching this film, I will be looking over my shoulder for a while and most definitely will stay on everyone’s nice side, at least for a while.