THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
The makers of Murder in the Heartland: The Search For Video X seem to remember the huge box-office receipts legendary horror-hoax The Blair Witch Project pulled in but it looks like they forgot about all the disappointment viewers felt. Blair Witch was just about the most universally hated movie to ever break $100 million bucks. I saw it before the hype broke and thoroughly enjoyed the creepy thrills but even I knew that that was a gag that couldn't be repeated. And I was right.
Murder in the Heartland purports to be a documentary on a pair of serial killers who supposedly left behind a tape of their crime spree. Assuming this piece to be a real documentary (which is what distributor Vanguard files it under) I picked up a review copy. I love a good true-crime investigative piece. Instead what I got was a shoddy, fake bit of trickery, with amateurish actors portraying sheriffs, victims and friends. The film (shot on consumer grade video equipment) is a boring exercise in self-indulgence and stubbornly sticking to a poor idea. The opening moments smartly mimic the real deal, with on-screen stats ("6 states," "17 armed robberies," "11 dead") intercut with atmospheric shots of rural squalor: Corroded cars and equally used-up people. I settled in thinking that this would be a gritty tale but the moment the first actress opened her mouth the gig was up. Not only are the performances unconvincing but the plot developments and storytelling style quickly ossify. The film becomes a mind-numbing series of talking heads interviews and convoluted twists.
The shot-on-video cinematography has a home-movie quality and, while sharp, is artless. The piece is full-frame.
The Dolby Digital audio is similarly amateurish. Interviews seem to have been shot with the built-in microphone, often creating an echo chamber sound style.
The only extra of note is a commentary track from the filmmakers who try to keep the gag running with "real" comments about the supposed true story. Looking for some explanation as to why the documentary I thought I was going to see turned out to be a fake, I was instead fed more silliness.
A hoax well executed (as I thought Blair Witch was) can be a great game. Viewers are left wondering where reality left off and the fiction picked up. But Murder in the Heartland has none of the wit or charm that's required. A good hoax can still be made but it'll take more than a camcorder and the local community arts theater to get it done. With the inevitable release of Video X (the supposed video shot by the killers) Murder in the Heartland acts as basically one of the longest and most boring trailers ever created.