By: Jeff Ching
The movie title Infrared is pronounced (infa-red), to which I bet that most people not familiar with the camera setting would pronounce it (in-fraird); or maybe it was just me? Just getting that out of the way now, as this is a title that deserves respect and to be pronounced properly.
When I was asked to review a low-budget found footage horror starring The Room’s Greg Sestero, I can’t say that I was excited. Don’t get me wrong, Sestero is awesome, but Infrared didn’t seem like it was going to be up my alley. After a long work day, I reluctantly hit “play” and – you know what? – Infrared may be the creepiest horror movie I’ve seen this year. Horrors generally don’t scare me, but I’m not going to lie when I say that at least two of the film’s jump scares legit gave me goosebumps – it’s been a while since I’ve felt that from a horror movie. A big part of Infrared’s success is the minimalist filmmaking and the production’s comprehension that sometimes “less is more”. There are not a lot of jump scares but, when they happen, the filmmakers absolutely make them count. I don’t recall there being any blood or gore, but the atmosphere, build-up, character development, and that ominous infrared camera setting contribute towards delivering far better suspense than all the horrors I’ve seen recently.
However, those exceeded expectations aside, it’s worth noting that the first 15 minutes of the movie are terrible. The film opens with an exorcism scene that is so weak, I’m afraid it would deter viewers. The filmmakers either needed to try something different, or put more comedy into the exorcism. In fact, half-an-hour in, the movie was testing my patience. I didn’t care for the characters to such a disheartening degree that I was dreading sitting through another hour. However, once the two protagonists finally meet (brother and sister – both paranormal investigators who had a falling out and haven’t spoken in ages), that’s when Infrared grabbed my interest. Characters are fleshed out more, and I really started to care for the leads and their fractured past.
An hour in, this movie absolutely had me in its grasp. I was far more awake than any cup of coffee could have made me, with my eyes glued to the screen and butt cheeks clenched. The build-up leading to the proverbial scare-storm was just so damn good. A huge selling point for horror hounds as long as they know Infrared is a slow burn they’ll need to be patient with. Infrared offers a good argument for why slow burn horrors are likely to resonate with audiences more than most slasher or “torture porn” flicks.
I think the biggest strength of Infrared’s screenplay is its structure. Rising from its weak beginning to the masterfully creepy, goosebump-inducing ending, the movie gets better and better as it rolls along. Many Hollywood blockbusters have a structural pitfall of giving away their best set pieces too early. By the time the climax comes around, the audience is kind of worn out, indifferent, and wanting the movie to end so they can make a beeline for the bathroom. Infrared embraces the “end with a bang” mantra and truly leaves the best for last. However, the ending wouldn’t have been so effective if the writers hadn’t taken the time to develop the two protagonists, their backstories, and the little mysteries that inevitably unfold despite the siblings wanting to keep them a secret. The big reveals and twists are unveiled at the right moments to increase the terror.
The world building is also great. Directors Robert Livings and Randy Nundlall Jr. (who both wrote the film as well) take their time to establish Infrared’s urban legend about an ominous condemned school building, the history of deaths that took place inside, and the question of whether there are evil spirits living inside. The duo even find a way to make the found footage angle believable. The sub-genre is occasionally hindered by one question: why would people still be filming when their lives are at stake? In Infrared, this works.
Greg Sestero receives top billing, though he’s only in Infrared briefly. With that said, he has so much fun with his role as the owner of the haunted, condemned school. I’m happy to see him thrive and rise above his cult status generated by Tommy Wiseau’s infamous flick The Room. The lead siblings/paranormal investigators are played by Jesse Janzen and Leah Finity. I was kind of indifferent towards them in the beginning but, once the plot brings the two together, their chemistry as brother and sister is so natural and believable. The relationship is so good, in fact, I wish the movie was a bit slimmer – perhaps 80 minutes so the lame bits during the beginning could be edited down and the pivotal dynamic between Janzen and Finity could arrive sooner. It’s also important to note that Finity, who plays a character with psychic abilities, really nails individual moments where she feels the darkness and evil of the school and wants to escape…but we’ve all seen horror movies and know that doesn’t exactly pan out.
With found footage horror, The Blair Witch Project will always be one of the best – the trailblazer for this sub-genre of horror. The top of the food chain that will never be beaten goes to Sinister. Cloverfield is perhaps the most epic of the sub-genre, but I feel confident in saying that I’d put Infrared in 4th place, after all those movies I’ve mentioned. I sure as hell will take Infrared over the vastly overrated Paranormal Activity. I’ve never heard of Robert Livings and Randy Nundlall Jr., but they have very bright futures as filmmakers. I hope this movie gets them a lot of attention, and I will for sure be looking out for what they do next; same goes to Leah Finity and Jesse Janzen. I see that Robert Livings has a movie called Weekend Healer with an average rating of 8/10 on IMDB – I think I’ll watch that next!
Rating **** (out of 5)
Read more of Jeff Ching’s thoughts on film at The Ching of Comedy’s blog.