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The Cohasset Snuff Film
by Edward Payson

I've written up more found footage films than I can count (nevermind, it's two). But I have seen a whole lot of them. The biggest type I've found have been of the paranormal variety, but the second most popular are ones focusing on the exploits of a serial killer. From “Man Bites Dog”, to “Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon” to the masterful “August Underground” films, there is a real possibility for brutal reality in such films. I heard the title “Cohasset Snuff Film” a while back and was already super interested. Then I heard about how much it sucked, so I avoided buying it for a while, while purchasing more surely awesome pieces. I finally decided to give this one a watch for review purposes. After having viewed the film I can honestly say, without any hesitation that this is.... a movie. It has actors in it and the cameraman hit record. That is the only credit I can actually bestow upon it. Allow me to explain to you why.

The Cohasset Snuff Film is not a straight found footage film. It is actually a fake documentary about a series of murders that happened in a small span of time, perpetrated by Colin Mason, a “disturbed” high school student. At first I was relieved that this was the case. A correctly done found footage film can be amongst the most powerful ever made, but a poorly done one can simply end up being boring. However, I quickly found out that the documentary angle didn't really help much of anything. The first two lines of this paragraph are the entire plot of the film and not much of anything actually happens.

The acting is mostly atrocious, especially the lead (Stephen Wu). I have no reason to believe that the actor is a bad person so I don't want to dog on him too much, but I had to suffer through his performance so I can't help it. His portrayal of Colin is so annoyingly forced and awkward that I almost considered not listing his real name earlier because that may technically count as harassment. Every line he delivers makes it seem like he just got done watching “The Dark Knight” and “Dexter” and is trying his hardest to look “cool crazy.” He only comes across as unbelievably irritating to the point where you can almost hear the director behind the camera yelling “More smug! No matter what you do, keep it smug!” He overuses the cliché “Crazy laugh/smile” way too much. The whole concept of that is supposed to be that a person is so sick and depraved that they genuinely find the horrible things they are doing amusing. In his case, he acts more like someone who sneaked a copy of “Silence of the Lambs” passed his overprotective parents and wants to impress people at school.

None of this is helped by the writing. The filmmakers seems unaware of how the world works to a baffling degree. It's partially my fault, as I've always had a morbid curiosity and have done a lot of research into actual sick people and the crimes they've committed, but the dialogue is so basic and amateurish. Supposed experts talk like they have never heard of murder before. One person actually acts like the fact that he is young is something unheard of, despite the fact that this kind of thing happens all the time. Is everyone in the film unaware that just five years prior to when the film was made, a college student only a bit older killed 29 people? (More than the subject in this movie.) And there have been numerous cases of young people committing brutal and calculated murders like the variety in this film. Another character talks about how it's unheard of in small towns. Serial killers LOVE small towns. When your average person thinks “serial killer” they think “creepy dude living in the suburbs,” it's textbook.

The surprising lack of awareness isn't just designated to the murder aspect of the film. At one point Colin tries to coax a victim by acting like he's trying to buy weed. When asking about the price, the girl responds “Now, I know you're an amateur, it's ten and up for the good stuff,” despite the fact that that pricing makes no sense and he never mentioned an amount. In another scene a priest says that he won't betray the sanctity of confession, only to do so in the very next line. The creators also seem to think that it's common for strangulation victims to be capable of screaming at full volume while their air supply is being cut off by someone intending to murder them. Also, successfully strangling someone takes minimum effort and only a few seconds apparently.

Nothing in the film comes across as authentic, especially the main character, which is a huge problem with a found footage film. A found footage movie that seems totally fake is like a comedy that has no humor in it. The motivations of the character make absolutely no sense whatsoever. I've seen movies that have killers with no motive and I've seen movies with killers who have huge motives. Both can work, but this film has neither. The character swings back and forth between just calling himself crazy for no reason and having all sorts of whiny opinions that seem far more suited to a nerdy kid in an episode of “One Tree Hill”. It was as if the writers just breezed through one mass murderer profile and just decided to messily tack traits onto their character that don't fit at all.

I'll give an example of this. At one point early on we see Colin having sex with his fairly attractive girlfriend. He tries to choke her and she freaks out. He later goes on a rant to his camera about how the girls at his school are stuck up and too good for everyone and blah blah. Neither of these elements are bad or unrealistic, but they don't go together. His actions suggest that the filmmakers are trying to portray violent sexual tendencies (despite the fact that his actions are the kind of thing that BDSM fans would call “cute at best”) but then completely abandon that road. Rather than delve more into his growing sexual fantasies (like Dahmer had) they have him spouting off in a way that would more closely match someone who's sexually unfulfilled to the point where they grow bitter with full-on rejection. He talks as if girls won't even give him the time of day, while an interview with a friend makes it very clear that he was more than successful in that department. If run-of-the-mill sex isn't enough for him, that's perfectly fine, but examine that rather than branch off into the cliché.

The character is referenced as having a drinking problem (common with serial killers) but the creators are less committed to that aspect than Darth Vader was to being in his son's childhood. He's shown drinking once and then references “being buzzed” in one other scene but other than that he seems sober as a Mormon for 90% of the movie and the one time we see him drink has nothing to do with him murdering anyone. It doesn't even add to any kind of escalation.

There is absolutely nothing intimidating about this kid whatsoever. That would be fine normally, as many killers are seemingly meek, but his wimpiness is clearly unintentional. He comes across like a kid who thinks that wearing a Cannibal Corpse shirt and using the word “blood” as much as possible makes him tough and then cries like a little bitch when he gets arrested for toilet papering someone's house in an act of attempted terrorism. I do not believe for half a second that this kid would commit a murder.

The film makes me feel like the makers are insanely square. During interviews, friends talk about how dark and clearly disturbed he was, but their examples are laughably tame. They talk about his love of horrifying things on the internet that made them vomit. That doesn't make him look dark, that makes them look overly uptight. No one who never attended a sock hop would call that stuff shocking and twisted. If that is a sign of a serial killer than me and my friends from high school should have already formed a serial killer counterpart to The Avengers. There's worse shit than what they talk about on Livelink which has a Web of Trust rating of “Excellent” by the general masses. The film is very tame overall which has no excuse in this day and age. One of the most polarizing moments in found footage history is the sold FF scene in “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” when Henry and Otis murder a family while video-taping themselves. The scene is raw, disturbing, and realistic. (And that movie was made almost thirty years ago.) In that time, prior to this film, we've gotten “August Underground”, “Maskhead”, “Scrapbook”, “Murder Collection Vol. 1” and countless others. There's no reason this film should have been so mild. The brutal looking cover is a perfect example of the term “dishonest marketing.”

A little ways into the film, I realized how much better it would have been if it had embraced its silliness and just tried to be a comedy. At times I thought that was the intention, but then the film would make it clear that it was trying (badly) to be serious and disturbing. It isn't impossible to do a less-than-serious found footage film that is great. “Behind the Mask” pulled off a goofy take on the subgenre very well. It's also not impossible to make a breathtaking found footage film that is just one big setup. “Zero Day” manages to be absolutely mesmerizing while all being a setup to the last ten minutes or so. It accomplished this by having stellar performances, top-notch writing, and interesting things to say. This film contains none of these qualities.

One minor thing that annoyed me about the film is the wild misuse of the term “snuff film.” This is a pet peeve of mine, but the term does not simply refer to a film in which someone is murdered on screen. If that was the case, all you have to do is search “2 guys 1 hammer” (which is referenced in the film) and boom, you got authentic murder footage. This is why technically “snuff films” may not be anything more than an urban legend. The term “snuff film,” by definition, only applies if a murder film is made with the sole intention of making a profit from it on the black market. It is true that the term “Faux Snuff” has been adopted to such films, like the first two in the “Guinea Pig” series, but it's a strictly fan-based categorical type of thing. It has no place coming out of the mouths of “experts” examining something that (in the film) is real and not snuff. It's a minor thing, but with this considered I feel a far better title for the film would be “The Exploits of the Bitchy-tongued Killer.” This is mainly due to the fact that I feel the killer would be more successful if he simply tied his victims down and talked to them until they killed themselves.

I was unable to watch this entire film in one sitting. This is not because it was so disturbing or shocking but because it was just so awkward and annoying that I could only subject myself to it a little at a time. I'm not the kind of horror fan that derives pleasure from bashing everything, I go into a film expecting to like it to at least some degree, but with this one that was an impossible expectation.

Overall, the saddest thing about this film is that people are using it to cite why the found footage craze needs to die. I love this subgenre and know that it has a rich history with plenty of awesome current features. I love the V/H/S films and am excited to see more of the like. This movie is nothing to judge either found footage or serial killer films on. There is still a lot to be done with them, and that's what we all need to focus on.

P.J. Griffin, HMS

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