Movie Review: ALWAYS WATCHING: A MARBLE HORNETS STORY
Marble Hornets is a web series created by Joseph DeLage and Troy Magner that debuted in 2009 and quickly created a solid fan base through 87 episodes. It revolves around a young man Tim who discovers the tapes his friend Alex gave to him shortly before disappearing. Alex was in the woods filming a movie called Marble Hornets, which in the process changed his personality, made him paranoid, despondent, and eventually crazy. As Tim delves into the recordings and begins to notice distortion or absence of sound and video, it becomes increasingly more apparent that a supernatural power known as The Operator (aka Slender Man) is behind it. The series is a slow burn for sure, but that makes the scares all the more impacting. Marble Hornets is everything “found footage” should be — slow paced, immersive, engrossing, and terrifying. This is why the film “adaptation” is so very disappointing.
Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story is a stand-alone movie with no real ties to the web series aside from the titular mention and the antagonist. A news crew sets out on a trip to abandoned or repossessed housing for a juicy story, and discover a box of tapes in a particularly strange house. After watching the tapes, Milo (Chris Marquette), Sara (Alexandra Breckenridge), and Charlie (Jake McDorman) realize that this particular house was abandoned by their owners in fear after being “marked” with a circled X and stalked by a tall man in a suit with no face. Soon after, Milo finds himself marked, and the three go on a run themselves to attempt and escape The Operator (Doug Jones).
Director James Moran makes his feature debut here after working as an AD on numerous notable horror films (including the first three Paranormal Activity sequels), and the first mistake made was abandoning everything that made the series great. There appears to be no input or creative control given to DeLage and Magner, which was a major mistake. The nuance and slow build is automatically gone because the episodic format is out. The lo-fi look and feel is replaced with an HD gloss that feels fictitious, and the fact that I recognize all three lead actors easily pulled me out. The worst part is that there’s only a small amount of actual tension and fear involved; Moran and crew don’t even know how to properly execute a jump scare as there were none effective on me (and I’m jumpy). What we’re left with is a love triangle between three decent actors, and a sub-par “found footage” version of The Ring. Is this what you’re looking for? Boy, is it the movie for you!
The inclusion of Doug Jones as The Operator baffled me, as basically anyone tall and lanky could put on a flesh mask and a suit and tie and become the Slender Man. Jones is a wonderful character/creature actor, and he inhabits and crafts his roles beautifully, but all that’s involved in Slender Man is to stand there and be imposing simply by being there. Worst is that The Operator in the film doesn’t behave or appear in the same fashion, and his “motives i”n the series only appear to be instilling madness and terror…whereas the film is quite a different matter. But then it clicked for me! There appeared to be no intention here of being an authentic, creepy film based on Marble Hornets — it was just to make a Slender Man flick. Marble Hornets was a means to an end of creating some name recognition and getting the clout to hire real actors and gather up a larger budget. The ending in nonsensical and eye rolling. Not worth another thought. Chalk this up to a missed opportunity and move on.
Well acted, occasional atmosphere of dread
Has virtually nothing to do with Marble Hornets nor any of the things that made it great. Scare-free, downright boring.