The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan is, as the title suggests, a found footage slow burn horror movie and the feature debut of writer/director Burt Grinstead. Suggesting that the following will be an unedited account of a student doing a school project, the movie follows said student, Leah Sullivan (Anna Stromberg), as she investigates a cold case of a family that were massacred.
As Leah investigates further, interviewing various members of her community (including her own mother), Leah starts to get deep into what went on around the time of the murders and gets ever closer to revealing the truth.
Found footage horror movies have a difficult history. For every Blair Witch Project you get, well you get 2016’s Blair Witch remake which failed to capture the horror of the original by its overuse of first person camera footage that relied on actors running around, breathing heavily and trying to sound scared. Instead, The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan takes a different approach as it follows Leah making her documentary about the notorious killings that have always haunted her hometown.
The story plays out through a series of interviews where Leah meets a few people who talk about what they remember about the incident and this is where the strength of the movie lies. Rather than contrived dialogue that furthers the plot, it seems as if there is more of an improvisational style to the interviews and this puts the audience at ease. Through these interactions it shows a relaxed style where the characters really come out, making them often relatable, funny and occasionally sinister.
However, for as much fun that these interviews are and the chemistry between Leah and police officer Patrick Rooke (Burt Grinstead), it feels like there was perhaps a little too much emphasis on the characters and a little less on building the tension for the scares. As The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan reaches its climactic final act, all the build up feels a little unearned as the movie disregards all of the previous events, giving the audience the found footage horror movie they may have wanted from the start.
Tropes fly thick and fast (dropped cameras, fleeting glimpses of the terror by flashlight and even the question of why Leah is still filming at all) and it feels like the movie loses its nerve. Most found footage horror movies feel like they’re either terror inducing first person scream-a-thons or slow burn, atmospheric movies that send a shiver down your spine. Unfortunately, it’s the latter that I feel the movie fails to deliver.
For all its moments of humour, dialogue that never overexplains the plot and the occasional jump scare, The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan could have benefitted from a few more glimpses of things out of the corner of your eye that would raise the tension tenfold.
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