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[Panic Fest Review] BLUE HOUR Proves What is Lost Should Not Always Be Found

Still from BLUE HOUR: The Disapperance of Nick Brandreth (2023), directed by Dan Bowhers - Panic Fest 2023.
Courtesy of Dan Bowhers

Written and directed by Dan Bowhers, Blue Hour is a found footage film that explores the mysterious disappearance of a young woman’s father in the late 90s. It’s evident that Bowhers calls on films like The Blair Witch Project (1999) for inspiration. What begins as your run-of-the-mill true crime documentary evolves into an ancient conspiracy –– one with ramifications that have the potential to change the way the world looks at time and space. Perhaps inspired by the urban legend of ‘the stairs to nowhere,’ the mystery begins with a door and ends with a bang.

In 1997, filmmaker Olivia Brandreth’s (Morgan DeTogne) father, Nick Brandreth (Nick Brandreth), goes missing –– the police search for weeks, but all they uncover is a gun and a single shell casing. It’s enough for them to determine that, despite lacking a body, Nick must have committed suicide in Rochester’s Haddonfield woods, a nod to John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) that is called out by one of the characters. After 25 years without answers, Olivia is filming a documentary with her friend Chris Donovan (Michael Kowalski), and their cinematographer, Luke D’Antonio (Mike Headford). One way or another, Olivia intends to find out what really happened to her father.

Olivia’s search for closure is one subtly fueled by the same obsession and determination that she soon realizes may have been behind her father’s disappearance. Her investigation takes a turn for the strange when the crew meets a private investigator named Arbogast — no doubt inspired by private detective Milton Arbogast in Psycho (1960). He informs them about the Obsidian Pyramid, a monument that is rumored to have shown up throughout humanity’s long history.

When photos taken by Nick depicting acolytes in cultish robes surface, the film veers from true crime into the realm of science fiction. Olivia is a woman possessed by her warring skepticism and need for answers. In the end, her commitment to the truth keeps her safe and provides us with the long sequence in which she finds closure. Whether or not it’s a happy ending is left up to interpretation.

Morgan DeTogne in BLUE HOUR: The Disapperance of Nick Brandreth (2023), directed by Dan Bowhers - Panic Fest 2023.
Courtesy of Dan Bowhers

Battling against the density of interdimensional travel, wormholes, and doorways to parallel universes, Blue Hour is a film that wrests its interesting narrative with choked, uneven pacing. The hook appears roughly 30 minutes into the film — far too long for the audience to believe that the paranormal doesn’t take a starring role in Nick Brandreth’s disappearance. For the most part, the film’s subject matter is approachable. It is upheld by the suspension of disbelief that arises via Olivia and her crew and, by extension, the audience.

The rationale of the doorways, and the acolytes who protect them, isn’t nearly as important as the emotional tether to the story –– which is where Blue Hour succeeds. As Olivia’s documentary is about her father, the science of this conspiracy she has stumbled into is far from the focus. Instead, because she remains invested in the pursuit of closure, the cult behavior and ominous black pyramid, while objectively terrifying, aren’t at the film's core.

In some form of ironic paradox, Blue Hour doesn’t spend nearly enough time establishing the father-daughter bond between Olivia and Nick. We watch as Olivia and her mother (Donna Carpino) flip through old childhood photos, but we learn nothing of their relationship. Like the logic behind the doors, this relationship is held up by shoestrings. Perhaps it might be easier to ignore if the film was accredited with a more well-rounded cast. Instead, Blue Hour is constantly tripping itself up with lackluster performances –– DeTogne delivers as Olivia, but the best portrayal comes from Josh Olkowski as Captain Frank Lynch. Arrogant, proud, and stubborn, he is the picture of every police captain who tends to rest easy on his laurels.

As found footage horror films go, Blue Hour establishes a curious mystery and an ending that gives its audience a modicum of closure, unlike in real life. At its core, Blue Hour is a story about the artist’s obsession, dancing along the line between the paranormal and the mundane. Despite its shortcomings, the film is an entertaining spiral through the metaphysical reaches of time, space, and memory.



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