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  • Rev Horror

Life of Belle

Dir. Shawn Robinson (2024)

When a young girl goes missing, the police release surveillance footage of the home in the hopes that she can be recovered alive.

Found footage, the refuge of low-budget independent filmmakers, continues to be a genre that is an entry-level avenue for people that want to make movies but lack a lot of the formal training or deep-pocketed production studios inherent in the other genres. Life of Belle, coming this month from Screambox, utilizes surveillance cameras, police bodycam footage, and the camcorder exploits of a little girl named Belle to tell a mockumentary-style story about a missing girl who may not have been taken by people. It's slick (for what it is), more than a little scary at times, and wears its inspiration on its sleeve pretty much the entire way through.

The film opens with a police bodycam showing a house that is in disarray. The policeman breaks through a door that is being blocked by piled-up furniture and immediately finds the body of the mother of the family. Heading up the stairs, he finds another body, this one belonging to a little boy. After the tragic incident, the police get together with a documentary film crew to spread the footage received from the home, attempting to get the attention of the public in the hopes that they can find the one person missing from the scene: little Belle (Syrenne Robinson). As the footage is put together, it begins to appear that there may be something even more sinister going on than it appears.

The frustrating thing about found footage is that it really doesn't require a large budget to get it right. The Blair Witch Project had a budget of $60,000 (which still seems like a lot to me), while Paranormal Activity was shot for only $15,000. It's not the money that makes it work, it's the idea itself (and a little bit of talent in front of the camera). The downside of this "lack of limitation" is that if the film fails, it has no one to blame but the idea and the execution. While Life of Belle is certainly not a failure, and while it does contain a little bit of viscerally disturbing footage showing the dangers of someone who has lost control of their faculties and remains responsible for their children, it contains very little else.

The major downside of the film is that almost nothing happens until the last twenty or so minutes of the film. I kept expecting there to be things lurking in the corners, kept expecting a Paranormal Activity-level scarefest, but breakneck thrill ride this certainly is not. The mom (Sarah Mae Robinson), who is having a full-on mental breakdown throughout, is a little creepy at times, especially in the third act. Once shit kicks off, however, it's an incredibly painful watch. The children are either terrified or phenomenal actors, the tears as real as it gets. The depiction of mental illness, if that's what it indeed is, feels pretty spot-on, too. It's terrifying and out of control, a rambling, incoherent mess with a tinge of ominous bleeding through at the edges. Unfortunately, as creepy as this can be to watch and as unfortunately realistic as it is, it doesn't make for a particularly exciting movie if that's all that happens in a found footage flick.

There are some major bright spots within, however. The cast does a truly stellar job, and even the children are completely believable in their roles. Robinson is creepy as hell as the mother, and she does it without any camera tricks and with very little other than dialogue, actually. The concept of the movie is horrifying, and I couldn't help but feel like this exact experience has happened to far more families than we would like to admit. It's a bit of an odd fit for Screambox, who normally tends to lean more towards straight-up horror obviously, but I'm always excited for someone to bring an indie film to the forefront. The ending of the film is tense as fuck and well worth the wait, a disturbing experience that left me about as uneasy as possible. And there's not really a whole lot more that you can ask of a film.

Who this movie is for: Found footage stans, Psychological/paranormal horror lovers, Psychiatrists

Bottom line: Life of Belle is dreadfully slow, the action is largely nonexistent, and perhaps leans a little too heavily on the films that inspired it. It also has one of the most harrowing final acts of any film in recent memory, a terrifying and disturbing finale that makes the (admittedly slow) leadup worth enduring. As someone with more than my fair share of mental illness experience, it's one that I have a feeling will stick around in my brain a lot longer than most films do. This one is coming to Screambox May 17th, and I definitely recommend checking it out if you don't mind the slowest of burns.

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