Fair or not, films that have their release dates pushed back or flat-out shelved indefinitely tend to be looked down upon. In many instances, it suggests creative disputes among filmmakers and executives took place, or even a studio acknowledging they have a dud on their hands. Polaroid fell victim to a two year delay, but not under any of these circumstances. The actual feature-length debut of director Lars Klevberg (Child’s Play) was originally scheduled an August 2017 release. Unfortunately, the film became entangled in the giant legal mess that was the bankruptcy of The Weinstein Company, having been produced by Dimension Films. Instead of receiving it’s intended wide release, Polaroid quietly dropped to VOD and a limited theatre run. I’ll go ahead and spill the beans right now: this film deserved better.
Polaroid tells the story of Bird Fitcher (Kathryn Prescott), a shy, reserved high school student with a passion for photography. Bird receives a vintage Polaroid camera from her friend and co-worker Tyler (Davi Santos), and begins to experiment with the antique. After snapping a photo of Tyler, she notices a strange, shadow-like imperfection appearing on the photographs. Later in the evening, Tyler is killed by a supernatural entity. After learning of his death and receiving news about another death of someone she photographed, Bird suspects the killings are tied to the camera. Unfortunately, prior to figuring this out, she snapped a group photo of her friends Kasey (Samantha Logan), Mina (Priscilla Quintana), Devin (Keenan Tracey) and her crush Conner (Tyler Young). Unknowingly sentencing all of her friends to death, Bird convinces them of their fates, and the group sets out to stop the photographic phenomenon before it kills them all.
Let’s get this out of the way early. All films have target audiences. In horror, you often see studios cheat to blur the lines between adult and teenage horror with the infamous PG-13 rating. I believe more often than not, studios neuter should-be-R-rated films in order to dip into that very important age demographic. Because money talks, these films suffer, and we often wonder what could have been had the shackles of censorship been taken off. Klevberg’s Polaroid does not belong in this conversation.
From beginning to end, Polaroid is a teenage horror flick, and most importantly, was clearly intended to be as such. It’s so important to identify this distinction early in movies such as this. You’re not going to get the emotional depth of an Ari Aster film, the stomach-turning gore of a David Cronenberg movie, or the twisted vulgar debauchery of a Rob Zombie flick. Polaroid plays best for those young, not-yet-jaded horror prospectors digging for their first nugget of ghoulish gold. That doesn’t mean it’s invincible to criticism, though. Knowing what exactly Polaroid is, does the film work well within these parameters?
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The plot, for the most part, is simple to understand. An evil entity inhabits an old relic, and all who make contact with said relic are susceptible to whatever consequences it brings. Easy enough! While keeping things understandable, Klevberg and screenwriter Blair Butler deserve props for not taking the audience as total idiots. There’s a twist within Polaroid that I truly did not see coming, even after being somewhat disappointed with the evil camera entity’s original backstory. I commend the writers for not shying away from difficult topics, age be damned, to create a very personable, relatable story.
The one drawback of Polaroid is its pacing. While important events do technically happen at a reasonable speed, their impacts don’t land as hard as they should. I attribute this to the film being based on Klevberg’s short film of the same name. Similarly to my thoughts on Lights Out, you get the impression that you’re watching a short story being significantly stretched beyond its limits to fill time. To its credit, Polaroid recovers from this early slog to deliver a compelling and satisfying second and third act.
Speaking of relatable, do you remember what it was like to be in your 30’s and still in high school? I hope not. Thankfully, the casting directors of Polaroid likely saw Scream or Halloween H20 and avoided this common horror cliche. Although in her 20’s when filming, you’d never believe Kathryn Prescott wasn’t that shy teenager you once were. Prescott does a phenomenal job in the lead role as Bird, operating flawlessly within the boundaries of her character’s age and personality, while never hamming it up like you so often see in films set in high school. The supporting cast does a fine job as well, particularly when they are all together in the same scene. There are two scenes in particular where the tension is palpable, even from behind the eyes of this 27-year old horror vet. (Seriously though, was Josh Hartnett in his 40’s in Halloween H20?)
Anyone who’s read my reviews or retrospectives here at Nightmare on Film Street knows I’m a real sucker for good atmosphere and dazzling cinematography. That said, Klevberg and cinematographer Pal Ulvik Rokseth know their craft. The outdoor shots, filmed in Nova Scotia, are truly beautiful. On the flip-side, the notable atmospheric shifts when the “Polaroid Poltergeist” (my name, not theirs) appears, giving everything you want from a supernatural horror flick. The night scenes in the high school are shots to behold, bringing back the nightmares of being trapped in school at night, scary even without a camera demon trying to kill you. Oh and the sound cue when the “Camera Creepy” shows up will stick with you too.
While not perfect, it really is a shame Polaroid never made it to the wide release it deserved. Lars Klevberg crafted a very satisfying, fresh film tailored to a younger audience short on good horror flicks. I recommend you give this one a watch and remember what it was like to be a horror fiend in the making.