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[CFF 2022] LANDLOCKED Review - VHS Tapes Illustrate a Disillusioning Story

Breanna Lucci says Landlocked provides a modern spin on found footage while tackling the complexities of family history and grief.

LANDLOCKED written and directed by Paul Owens, screened at the 2022 Chattanooga Film Festival.
Courtesy of Chattanooga Film Festival

Landlocked spins a modern take on the found-footage phenomenon. Paul Owens wrote, directed, and produced this science-fiction dramatic horror film that includes his actual family members and home movies. Starring Mason Owens, Jeffrey Owens, and Seth Owens, the film investigates the difference—and similarities—between past and present with a daunting touch of familial mystery.

After his father's death, Mason returns to his childhood home a week before it’s scheduled to be demolished. He finds a small closet with an old VHS camera and discovers that it can see the past. In a mesmerizing hurry, Mason sets out to record as many memories as possible. Soon, his history begins blurring with his present, and it becomes challenging to tell the difference.

Paul Owens has done something awe-inspiring with this film. With a cast of only family members, and Mason Owens occupying most of the screen time, it tells a dramatic story with very little dialogue. The tension rises so gradually that it’s barely noticeable, with the film emitting deeply unsettling suspense in moments of stillness. He employs a handheld and still camera technique for the present and switches to the old VHS tapes for the past. As the story progresses, the two mesh unnervingly and leave the audience anxiously waiting for something to happen.

Nature plays an enormous role in both the cinematography and story. Present-day footage reveals an overgrown lawn swallowing everything into the brush. The VHS tape displays nicely cut grass adorned by a playhouse and children's toys with an air of buoyancy. The house, overflowing with happy voices and shrill laughter in the past, bleeds silence as Mason treads through it and disturbs its long-settled dust in the present, and insects slowly take over the grimy windows and doorframes. These seemingly mundane concepts, like overgrown brush, insects, and dust, convey a powerful message about nature's unforgiving and ever-expanding persona. In a state of grief, Mason discovers that while the VHS tape remembers his happy childhood, nature has long since moved on.

Mason Owens is similarly impressive in his performance. His facial expressions and body language tell a singular story, shining a light on Mason’s mental state. At times, his performance is mechanical, reflecting his sorrow over his father's death and his bittersweet reaction to the recovered memories. At other times, he seems lighter. The VHS camera allows him to relive his happiest moments. This back and forth escalates as the VHS reveals a more startling and unexplainable past, which Mason greets with a muted curiosity. The performance is what elevates Landlocked from a simple play on the found-footage genre into a genuinely upsetting horror film.

Landlocked finds a refreshingly new way to explore the found-footage phenomenon. It examines grief, nature, and family through a horror lens, leaving behind a dreadful and mysterious feeling. The ending leaves many avenues for interpretation, which fits because the house will ultimately be demolished with the secrets it holds.

Landlocked was screened at the Chattanooga Film Festival on June 23-28, 2022.



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