I have fallen into a Bad Ben rabbit hole it appears. Bad Ben is a found footage horror film that was directed, produced and edited by Nigel Bach who also plays the movie's sole character. Inexplicably the release of the ninth entry in the series; Bad Ben: Benign is just around the corner, surely this makes this indie series one of the most prolific found footage series around? I have a screener of the latest entry but I wanted to get up to speed and so chose the very first film in the series to get an idea of what would be in store to me. I figured the first would be the roughest, but despite being derivative, especially of Paranormal Activity, this was bizarrely watchable.
Bach plays Tom Riley, a grumpy middle aged man who has recently brought a house with the intention of sprucing it up and then selling it on in order to make a profit. He has decided to stay at the property while doing this, but he begins to experience supernatural occurrences, such as objects moving around on their own and doors slamming. Not wanting to waste his investment, Tom decides to stay and does everything he can think of to make the ghosts of the house, and in particular the titular 'Bad Ben' leave. However, as the intro spiel says, the recordings that make up the film were pieced together from footage recovered from Tom's phone, it seems he may not have been very successful.
Bad Ben falls extremely deeply into the old style of making found footage horrors. That Bach manages to carry the entire movie by himself is baffling, yet somehow he does. There always needs to be a good reason for footage to be filmed, yet here there isn't at all. Tom is constantly narrating as if he is making the videos for people to watch, yet at several points he admits to himself he has no idea why he is filming. At least him saying that meant I could see his incessant self recording to be a symptom of an underlying mental health issue. It also felt weird he had set up a ridiculous amount of cameras around the house, he says its for security but I felt it was a touch overdone. I imagined before watching this that it would be a small feature length, instead this is nearly ninety minutes, much of that is just Tom walking around not really doing anything of note. Just as I began to get the first feelings of boredom I noticed the film had crept into it's third act without me really noticing.
A ninety minute film with just the one character should have been as dull as dishwater, it isn't, despite the character of Tom not really having much to him. Throughout the movie he has several one sided phone conversations. These, and his interactions with the ghost or demon haunting the property displayed his moody side. He was the sort of person who instead of getting frightened when spooky stuff happens instead gets angry. It leads up to a lovely moment where he is performing his own version of an exorcism as he wanders around the house almost furiously shouting "It's time to cross over, peace awaits you there". Then there was the bit where he tells the spirit "You can't do anything to me, I'm a Christian!". The film is labelled as a comedy horror, and it seems like future instalments must play into this aspect more. Here, it felt like the film was accidentally comedic as what happens is all very Paranormal Activity, albeit on a shoestring budget (the home Tom is staying at is actually the real life home of Bach).
The special effects for a one man solo movie were not bad. Furniture moving around on its own, and shadowy shapes all looked good. Not so great was the home security systems lettering that looked basic, and a couple of near awful CG effects, such as a candle's flame suddenly appearing, and one scene in which the ghost is writing words in spilt ashes. There is a bit of blood and that looked decent, while the end features a few special effects that were effective, though cribs its ideas wholly out of other house based found footage horrors.
I expected Bad Ben, especially the very first one, to be very rough and boring. I was impressed that there was no shaky footage, it makes sense how unfazed Tom acts most the time. I also thought it was edited together well in places. I would have added in some title cards to help split up the days as I was never really sure if it was day or night during the in the house parts. This does comes from the old style found footage genre, not the modern day version that features a captivating and very believable protagonist. If you can deal with a whole lot of almost pointless footage then this will have some merits to it. I also have Bad Ben: Pandemic and Bad Ben: Benign to watch for review, so I'm very interested to see how these later films match up.