Josh Criss’ Leaving D.C. boasts classic found footage horror tropes with a spark of invention and great use of a motion-activated game camera. Genre fans will have fun with this one…
Found footage horror is giving middle-aged men with big houses and a talent for one-man-band filmmaking the chance to explore previously untapped creativity. Fuelled by reoccurring subtext perhaps inspired in the wake of the housing bubble crash, we’re seeing single males, perhaps licking financial wounds but undeterred by living alone, moving into middle class homes to find malevolence urging them to get out.
Nigel Bach took these elements and neatly packaged them for his enjoyable 2016 effort Bad Ben. But Josh Criss, similarly controlling every element of production, did it first with 2012’s Leaving D.C., a Paranormal Activity-inspired ghost story made up of the protagonist’s video blog as he details the strange occurrences plaguing him after relocating to a remote country home.
Criss might over-do the reminders about his predicament – yes, we get you’re in the middle of nowhere – but Leaving D.C. possesses an unnerving sense of isolation. The writer-director, who also plays the main character, underlines the unease through a police Sheriff who’s uninterested in his appeals for help, and a friend who visits but is spooked into making a hasty exit.
Criss’ limitations as an actor are overcome by the means of delivery. The video blog allows him to be somewhat stilted and dictatorial without losing our interest or empathy. His strengths behind the camera also go a long way to alleviating concerns when he’s in front of it. Some wonderful touches – many of which derive from a sound recorder he uses at night – give Leaving D.C. a satisfyingly unsettling edge that’s sparked by Criss’ smart editing and balanced pacing.
However, while the film builds tension superbly towards its inevitable final tragedy, it’s a shame Criss lets his good work down with an ending that is frustratingly abrupt. You get the feeling there were more scares to be extracted from Leaving D.C.’s terrific concept, especially when you consider Criss’ successful efforts earlier in the film (including terrific use of a motion-activated game camera), so disappointment meets the last fade to black. But there’s too much to admire in this effort, especially for genre fans, to dismiss it.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Josh Criss
Written by: Josh Criss
Starring: Josh Criss, Karin Crighton, Jeff Manney
Released: 2012 / Genre: Found Footage Horror
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Leaving D.C. courtesy of video-on-demand service Amazon Prime Video.