Found footage films are thick on the ground these days, and it's a difficult task to inject anything new or innovative into this kind of movie. Justin Cole went meta in his approach, and worked social media to gin up the idea that his film The Upper Footage was actual footage of a girl overdosing, and her companions covering it up. He even got a couple of stories on Entertainment Tonight, creating a significant buzz. For what it is, the film's quite effective.
Blake is a wealthy dilettante, and he's hanging out with his girlfriend Devon and their friend Will, a vlogger, which provides a passable explanation for why everything is being filmed. He wants to go party, score some cocaine and hit the clubs. They pick up pals Chrissy and Taylor on the way. Taylor is sort of a jerk, and he's intent on getting laid and annoying his friends. He picks up Jackie, a random young woman they bump into. Jackie's face is blurred for the duration, out of "respect to her family."
Jackie is not off the same social strata as her companions. She's amazed at the view and huge windows of Blake's apartment. She could be just a year or two off the farm, really, and desperately wants to fit in. Does she hear Blake and the others making fun of her while she's in the room? Who knows. She has no hesitation when it comes to snorting a few lines, and soon she's throwing up in the bathroom. Not long after that, she's dead.
It takes a while to get there, but the real meat of The Upper Footage is how these entitled, cossetted rich kids deal with a dead girl in their apartment. In short: not well. There are arguments, yelling, recrimination, and ultimately a firm determination to avoid any responsibility.
The film is like other found footage movies, only expanded to the nth degree. It has all of the faults of the genre, in spades. And it reaches the heights that the genre is capable, and far above them. On the faults side: the film is a bit of a slog. It takes a while to get going, and a lot of what we see is simply spoiled rich kids acting like we'd expect, what with the casual racism and the drug use and mockery of those less fortunate.
But the film also is absolutely, brutally true to life. Not a single false note is sounded. There is no moment where the viewer says, "Wait, that wouldn't happen. That's ridiculous." The "why did they keep filming" question gets answered well enough, though this moment comes closest to making the audience question authenticity. The Upper Footage feels, like many of these kind of movies don't, as if it really were a home video record of an unspeakable act, as if we've stumbled across our creepy uncle's snuff film. That reality comes with a cost, as noted above, but it is compelling. This is not a "fun" film to watch, but it does draw the viewer in. It has a very voyeuristic feel. We the audience are complicit in the events as we watch.
Because of the sometimes slow pace, I can't give The Upper Footage a full throated and absolute recommendation, but Justin Cole has done something fairly impressive. He's moved the found footage genre forward a few steps, and that's no small feat. The Upper Footage