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Collingswood Story, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Apparently, some folks are still scared of the internet."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 BOSTON FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL: The high concept for "The Collingswood Story" is obvious - a horror story told completely through the characters' conversations with each other via webcam. This is not, in and of itself, a bad idea - stories told in the form of letters or diary entries have been around for centuries, Orson Welles saw the potential of combining this technique with mass media in his "War of the Worlds" broadcast, and "The Blair Witch Project" was a huge hit. Unfortunately, "The Collingswood Story" doesn't work nearly so well as those other examples.

Part of the problem is that it tries to cross media. Every shot in the movie is of a computer screen, although director Michael Costanze will often remove the faux Windows desktop after a minute or two, "zooming in" on the actual webcast. This makes for very static images, with half (or more) or the visual real estate relegated to a non-changing border, and the actual picture being one person sitting relatively still within the webcam's field of vision. Occasionally, we get an insert of a visual e-mail sent from one character to the other, but those aren't much better, being just shots through the front windshield of her car. This might work if we were actually watching these files on a computer screen, perhaps after hunting them down as in A.I.'s famous promotional game, but in a theatrical environment (or even in the living room), we expect more dynamic composition and camerawork, rendering the movie inert. The occasional cut to strange, demonic flashes in the last act shakes things up a little, but also breaks form.

The story itself isn't terribly exciting, either - Johnny (Johnny Burton) got his girlfriend Rebecca (Stephanie Dees) a webcam for her 21st birthday so that they could talk while she's away at school in Collingswood, NJ after transferring from community college in Virginia. One of his friends gave them the number of web-phone psychic Vera Madeline, who informs them that there's some sort of evil spirit to be worried about. A little internet research yields information about a judge who killed his family and then himself in the house where Rebecca is now living, and ties to a secret society.

Pacing is a huge problem with this movie. The first act is pretty much dead weight, spending a lot of time on Rebecca trying out her new toy, filling in a little background on the characters, and just getting the audience used to the format. Also, the entire story appears to take place over the course of just a couple of days, which really doesn't give the characters as much time or reason to get as agitated as they do. And the person-to-person nature of these web phone calls means we never get more than two people interacting at a time, so the audience is saddled with unnecessary recap and other characters who just seem to go on hold until it's their turn in the sequence to appear. It makes for a choppy flow.

It's unfortunate, because the two leads are rather likable. Stephanie Dees actually looks 21; I initially thought she was supposed to be about 18 since most high school girls in the movies look older than her. She's cute-bordering-on-adorable, and doesn't stumble too badly on what the script asks of her. Burton is totally natural himself, and his part calls for even more of the stupids. Vera Madeline is a joke, though, always shrouded in ridiculous shadow even when she supposedly wants to be taken seriously, and the other characters are just awkward.

It's an interesting conceit, so I guess you could call it a noble failure. But it is, when you get down to it, a failure, one of the least gripping horror movies I've seen recently.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13251&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/18/05 10:28:44
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Boston Fantastic Film Festival For more in the 2005 Boston Fantastic Film Festival series, click here.

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