Of course, Ash is an inveterate phone-recorder of moments like these, hence we have this footage to establish the central character tension of the movie. It’s a device that was used (more effectively I’d have to say) in Cloverfield (2008) allowing us to ‘witness’ backstory to characters that has a bearing on the ‘present day’ story.
In this film, present day is a year later. The brothers haven’t spoken in all that time. Mark’s business has failed, their parents have lost most of their money and Ash isn’t happy about that at all. Still, Mark is about to marry his girlfriend Stephanie (Olivia Vadnais) who’s arranged for Ash to meet with his estranged brother in a Madison coffee shop. Joining Ash is his wingman, Donny Donovan (Andrew Yackel) a wannabe youtube hero which means he’s wielding a video camera the whole time. And the last member of what will become our band of heroes, is intrepid online reporter Tessa Monroe (Jennifer Andrada) who’s in Madison to cover a protest which is quite quickly quelled by the appearance of tanks and soldiers in force. As Tessa tells her viewers, free speech is under threat in Madison and what happens in this small town could soon be the fate of the entire country.
It seems that writer/director Aaron Garrett wants to give us more than just an urbanised shoot-‘em-up here. He clearly has some genuine political and social points to make, using an exaggerated, fictional situation to offer a cautionary tale about how easily our freedoms and liberties can be crushed by a reactionary government backed up by a powerful military force. Underscoring his story is a group of characters who have a complex set of emotional entanglements and personal desires that make them more than just pawns in the running gun battles as they look for a way out of town. At times, it’s reminiscent of the first act of Red Dawn (1984) except that here the enemy is their own people. The low budget makes it difficult for Garrett to stage more impressive citizen protests or military responses which often leaves scenes felling a bit empty but, for the most part, the film makes do with what it’s got and the human stories at its heart allow us to forgive the shortcomings in its action sequences.
The dilemma of the found footage film is always how to piece together the random bits of shakey-cam imagery into a coherent narrative. For the large part, this is achieved by taking advantage of the ‘news reporter’ character and, of course, the ‘selfie-driven’ generation, although the constant image of characters with one hand raised to hold up phones or video cameras wears a bit thin after a while. There’s an additional perspective introduced later in the film when Garrett himself pops up as a kind of citizen-guerrilla-soldier who joins forces with our heroes. His bodycam brings a new and refreshing camera style to the mix.
The performances are mostly strong, especially Andrada as the reporter, Yackel as the chaotic and self-centred Donny Donovan and Garrett himself as Roland, the citizen soldier, and there’s an interesting twist towards the end than means the final scenes don’t quite go where we think they will. It’s an ambitious project on a number of levels and whilst it might not succeed at every turn, it has a good crack at injecting a bit of social and political conscience into what could have easily been just another humdrum action flick.