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When a horror movie struggles with scheduling and distribution issues, worry starts to set in immediately. Lars Klevberg’s Polaroid has had a tough time making the transition from short (the original 15-minute film was released back in 2015) to feature length. Finished all the way back in 2017, its initial completion earned its filmmaker the directorial chair for the newest reincarnation of Child’s Play. But it wasn’t until late 2019 that Klevberg’s first feature seemed to have escaped distribution hell. After recently hitting Netflix, horror fans can now feast their eyes on the director’s debut. Was the wait worth it?
Polaroid focuses on high school student Bird Fitcher (Kathryn Prescott) as she comes into possession of an antique polaroid camera. Fueled by her passion for photography, she begins taking some snaps. However, things quickly spiral out of control as this camera’s troubled history begins to torment Bird and her friends.
Polaroid is the standard teen horror template, recalling recent stinkers like The Bye Bye Man or Truth or Dare. There’s a small budget, an inexperienced director, a demonic entity that makes little sense and a cast of victims without any real acting ability, character development or general likability. It has all the hallmark indicators of a first-time feature and it’s hard to see how its execution earned Klevberg the Child’s Play reboot.
Both the cast and the characters within Polaroid are disappointing. Prescott is the best of a bad bunch and does what she can admirably. However, the majority of her co-stars are just body counts to lengthen the runtime. Polaroid approaches its subject matter in much the same way the Final Destination franchise did, with an emphasis on victims one by one feeling like they simply cannot escape death. In Klevberg’s movie, if this infamous polaroid camera catches you in its lens you are doomed. This might sound interesting at first glance. Yet, when viewers quickly come to the realisation that most of the cast are underused or incapable of providing convincing performances, it becomes stale.
Sheriff Pembroke (Mitch Pileggi) sums up Polaroid’s issues perfectly. The character becomes a very significant part of the plot and is central to the camera’s history. Yet he’s only in the film three times, amounting to a couple of minutes overall. With his final appearance, where he reveals the origin of the polaroid camera and the entity that haunts it, viewers are asked to invest emotionally in the scene. Yet, it doesn’t work because we don’t know anything about Pembroke or even care for him.
Polaroid’s finale also suffers from familiarity, feeling cliched and derivative. It aims for an emotional pay off steeped in taboo sufferings. Yet, it all culminates in a denouement that just wreaks of the eerily similar 2004 Thai chiller Shutter and other Asian horrors.
The film does manage to serve up some great moments of atmosphere throughout, which is strange given the generic template it follows. Klevberg focuses on building suspense with Polaroid’s darker moments, resisting the urge for cheap jump scares on a few occasions. The film’s main antagonist also benefits from creepy effects and a solid performance by the always awesome Javier Botet (Crimson Peak, The Conjuring 2). That said, the real issue with this demonic entity is that how the characters react to it is infuriating.
An emphasis is placed on this monster only being able to murder its victims in an environment where it can fully ‘develop’ akin to a polaroid picture developing – a unique concept. But when our protagonists spend more time willingly traversing pitch-dark areas than staying in the light, watching them becomes extremely frustrating. It won’t be long until you are shouting at the screen for any character to turn on the lights. When they do eventually, then the lights just blow out or don’t work. It’s amateur stuff that was executed far more convincingly in the incredibly similar 2016 horror Lights Out.
While not quite hitting the recent lows of similar movies like last Halloween’s Countdown, Polaroid more often than not disappoints. There are sparks of flair and suspense but not anything that hasn’t been executed far better in the past.