1998. Stefan Avalos. Lance Weiler. This film is one of those that's ahead of its time, pioneering and inventive, yet just out of reach of the limelight. I've made it no secret that the 'Found Footage' corner of Horror is one of my guilty pleasures. I believe it comes from my love of documentaries and mondo/shockumentary films. When done correctly, such a film can be gripping, but often it's seen (or used) as a gimmick to pad poor writing or acting.
The general plot of The Last Broadcast revolves around a double murder, the hosts (Steven Avcast and Locus Wheeler) of a public access cable show, 'Fact or Fiction.' They had set out to find the mythical Jersey Devil, supposedly located in the Pine Barrens, a thickly wooded and remote area. A sound engineer (Rein Clackin) and a man with supposed psychic powers (Jim Suerd) are invited to join the group as well. The story is essentially the meeting of these characters and their fateful trip to the Barrens. The whole even was streamed on the internet and cable tv, a feat I found interesting since the internet was still not widely available at the time of making this film. Again, ahead of its time. A documentary filmmaker (David Leigh) is our narrator, he feels that the crime wasn't properly researched and a guilty man was convicted of murder. Suerd was immediately fingered as the killer, with the evidence being blood found on his clothes of all three victims (yes, I said three - more on that later), being the only surviving member and his outbursts on the video recordings. That's really the whole backstory. What we see is David Leigh talking the history of their show and organization of the trip, with their footage mixed in.
There's a major documentary feel to this film and save the last ten or so minutes does that very well. The cast has a good chemistry, while the acting isn't top notch, for me it doesn't have to be. I find it smart writing how the two lead actors invite these two supporting into their group, as that creates a natural barrier to them appearing a long-time buddies, a fault that so many films try and do. What others have mentioned as a negative, I find quite the opposite.
Our narrator, on the other hand, is stiff as a board. I'm almost positive he reads his lines, there's a noticeable lack of charisma but that may be his intention. The film does show some choice moments where Suerd is lashing out towards the group, but again, these guys aren't buddies. Suerd has the trust of the group on his back and due to his psychic powers, is leading the expedition. This leads to one of my main gripes with the film - I can't figure out if Leigh is really for proving Suerd's innocence or not. Obviously, having watched the film I realize why his opinion jumps but for a first time viewer it can be confusing. I say that, but the ending is very confusing regardless.
As we are shown more of this trip, the tape runs out. Literally, as Wheeler says it's time to change the tape, that's supposedly the last tape recovered from the group. We then see a mysterious package arrive at our narrator's house, a package containing several feet of tape. He takes this to a data retrieval expert (Michelle Monarch), who says she can recover what's salvageable on the tape and attempt to repair the rest. This was my favorite part of the film, seeing the footage recovered with all the glitches and tears that would be present on a damaged video tape. Even more amazing is this film was the first all-digital release ever. Those guys had some very convincing VHS effects. Continuing, the footage shows Wheeler and Clackin discovering a large pool of blood after looking for Avcast, who had went out alone searching for the creature. This is my main gripe. We are told by one of the experts detailing the case that Avcast could not have survived, in relation to the amount of blood found at the scene. That's fine, I can deal with that, but to never close his chapter of the film? Suerd was only charged with a double murder yet there's strong evidence that the third and still missing party had died as well. I'm don't want to pick that much but I really was hoping Avcast was actually the killer, but that's unfortunately not the case.
I'll attempt to not totally spoil the ending, but after the footage is repaired thoroughly enough to reveal a face, the film changes suddenly. The perspective changes from a first-person documentary view to a standard multi-camera setup. This took me out of the film, as what genuine quality the film had was completely taken away. The remaining final minutes of the film shows a brutal murder, not with gore but with sheer force. Talking more about this shot would spoil the entire film, but just know that when the perspective changes, the whole mood changes with it. I found it a questionable choice, an unnecessary one seeing how the film was headed in a certain direction. I get that it's a shocking twist and that's fine, but if they would have continued the story as it was heading, I would have been much more satisfied. With that, it's a film and a scene that has to be watched to truly understand. I had read reviews and still when the events unfolded, I had to use my head a little to figure some things out. Maybe a second watch will take me where the filmmakers had planned, but that remains to be seen. All in all, a film that deserved more fanfare than it received, overshadowed by a similar film, The Blair Witch Project. I hope that all who read this will be intrigued enough to search the film out, it's not super easy to find but out there. Thanks for reading, I apologize for the lack of pictures but I'm typing this on the road.