[Review] ‘Butterfly Kisses’ Is A Refreshing Take on Found Footage

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Love it or hate it, found footage has been a prominent horror subgenre ever since The Blair Witch Project (1999) exposed the masses to the concept of a film being shot by the movie’s own main characters. This faux-amatuer style of shooting provides some unique advantages and limitations for both the filmmaker and the viewer, which is part of the reason that the subgenre is so polarizing among horror fans. The 2018 film Butterfly Kisses is acutely aware of those advantages and limitations, and it somehow manages to simultaneously subvert them, exploit them, spoof them, and pay homage to them in a meta and refreshing take on the genre.

In Butterfly Kisses, our main character Gavin is a down-on-his-luck filmmaker who stumbles upon raw footage of two film students attempting to make a documentary about a Bloody-Mary-esque local legend known as “The Peeping Tom” or “The Blinkman”. He decides that the best way to get the word out about this ominous footage is to finish the students’ film for them, and to procure a documentary crew to film him as he does so. The result is a pseudo-documentary about a found footage film that takes full advantage of both of those subgenre’s unique shooting styles while constantly weaving in self-referential criticism and muted tongue-in-cheek humor. Blair Witch Director Eduardo Sánchez himself even makes a brief appearance, playing himself as he criticizes the found footage element of the film.

A major drawback of found footage films is that, for a myriad of reasons, they tend to lack an emotional core. Luckily (or perhaps very purposefully), the pseudo-documentary aspect of Butterfly Kisses allows director Erik Kristopher Myers to avoid that pitfall by making the discoverer of the footage our main character. While we do get attached to the student filmmakers in the found footage portion of the film thanks to realistic dialogue and true-to-life acting by Sophia (Rachel Armiger) and Feldman (Reed DeLisle), the heart of the story is Gavin’s (Seth Adam Kallick) misguided attempt to be discovered as a filmmaker while risking his already strained relationships with his wife and son. Gavin isn’t always likeable, but we understand him, and we believe him as a character.

While this movie successfully uses its pseudo-documentary layer to dodge some common pitfalls of the found footage subgenre, it still knows which side its bread is buttered on. Found footage does tend to bring the scares, and Butterfly Kisses doesn’t shy away from the camera tricks and jump scares that make the genre so effective. But this aspect of the film isn’t overdone, and Butterfly Kisses doesn’t forget to build a growing sense of dread as the movie progresses and the mystery unfolds.

The many layers of the film keep the viewer intrigued and establish more mystery than the simple question at the film’s core - Is the Blinkman real? Three different layers of character motivations effectively obfuscate the truth. What were Sophia and Feldman’s motivations for making this film? Were their intentions pure? And what of the intentions of Gavin, the subject of the documentary? Furthermore, no documentary is completely objective, so what about the motivations of our documentarians who are also characters in the story? Some major throughlines of the film involve the ethics of filmmaking and the temptations faced by documentarians to tell a good story at the expense of the truth. This adds another layer of commentary to the already rich discussion the film instigates with its viewer.

What we’re left with in Butterfly Kisses is one of the smartest and most engaging found footage films in recent memory. Beyond its witty gimmick of scaring you with video effects done on easily manipulated black and white footage minutes after telling you how easy it was to do so, there is a well told story with deeper themes at play. If you’re feeling jaded about the found footage subgenre, Butterfly Kisses may be just the movie to shake you out of your funk with its refreshing take on the found footage film.

- Brian

Butterfly Kisses is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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