|Unfriended, a new movie in real time|
Last night I watched two movies that, unbeknownst to me going in, were films that took place in real time. The first film was Cop Car, a thriller about two young boys who find an abandoned cop car in the middle of the woods, and do what most young boys would do in such a situation. The second movie was Unfriended, a digital thriller about a group of millennials who are harassed online, possibly by the ghost of a girl they bullied to death a year ago.
But whether or not the movies were good mattered little to me while watching them. About 20 minutes into each film, I realized with near certainly that Cop Car and Unfriended were going to be set fully in real time. And then I was sold. No matter what happened – how the characters were developed, what twists arose, how it all ended – I was locked in for the duration, simply because I cherish the real time narrative.
|Kevin Bacon in Cop Car|
If I hear that a movie takes place in real time, I’ll make it a point to see it. Doesn’t matter who’s in it, who made it, what it’s about, or how much it cost, if it’s in real time, I’m there. My fascination with real time movies runs deep. I appreciate the challenge it takes to deliver an 83 minute movie, the story of which seemingly takes place in real time, but was actually shot over the course of 16 days (as was the case for Unfriended). But, most of all, I love the idea of experiencing a story with the characters of that story, as the story is actually happening.
Now, like any narrative gimmick, the real time film does not always produce good results. For every Russian Ark, there is an 88 Minutes. Many of the weaker real time efforts fail because the filmmakers rely on the gimmick as opposed to simply utilizing it. Essentially, the gimmick becomes the film, thereby trumping the story, which should always be most important. Additionally, if one gimmick film succeeds, we can expect an obnoxious surge of them for years to come. Paranormal Activity singlehandedly revitalized the found footage genre, which had been mostly dormant for the decade prior to its release. The success of Birdman is bound to reveal a host of One-Take movies over the next few years. Same as Tangerine is destined to provoke filmmakers to shoot features entirely on their iPhones.
|The Set-Up, an early, great real time film|
The real time movie, however, has never really gone away. Hitchcock did it with Rope in 1948, and Robert Wise followed with The Set-Up (perhaps the first truly masterful real time film) a year later. In the years since, we’ve gotten a new real time film every few years, and with the emergence (dominance…?) of films being captured digitally, real time movies are now easier to pull off than ever.
And to love such a specific type of movie is to make excuse for films within that genre. Many films that boast themselves as real time movies often cheat with their time frame. High Noon, 12 Angry Men, My Dinner with Andre, and Gravity are all typically remembered for taking place in real time, even though they actually don’t. (Similarly, Birdman was not captured in just one take.) But who cares? Although those films, like Cop Car, cheat a little bit with time, they are well made enough that the effect is not diminished. Unfriended, on the other hand, belongs to that elite group of films like Russian Ark, Tape, Before Sunset, and Nine Lives in which every second of screen/real time is accounted for.
Real time movies are my favorite of all gimmick films. Found footage is tired, and one-take films make me too anxious on first viewing (“When’s it going to cut? When’s it going to cut? When’s it going to cut?”). I had no idea that Cop Car and Unfriended took place in real time, and the fact that I watched them back-to-back by pure coincidence is my idea of complete and utter cinematic bliss. And hell, in a current entertainment culture that’s full of remakes and reimaginings and rehashes and rewhatthefuckevers, it’s nice to be reminded that original, audacious films are always around, waiting to be discovered. Sometimes even twice in one evening.
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