The zeitgeist subject matter of police brutality and abuse has created a sizable open-wound for the general populous, a wound that some filmmakers have captured with much-needed catharsis. Whether it’s well-realized true stories like Fruitvale Station or inventively constructed thrillers like Black and Blue, it’s been refreshing to see how directors critically capture this lingering real-world issue. The latest film to join that lineage is Body Cam, a midnight genre thriller with a supernatural bend, that despite its clever conceit, can’t convey the weight of its material.
Body Cam follows Renee (Mary J. Blige), a veteran cop returning to action while dealing with the lasting pain of her son’s death. Along with her eager rookie partner Danny (Nat Wolff), the two work to uncover the answers behind a fallen officer’s death, but they begin to discover that greater forces may be at work.
Conceptually-speaking, Body Cam delivers a thoughtfully-designed premise that marries our real-world setting with horror elements. Horror scribes Nicholas McCarthy and Richmond Riedel cleverly design the supernatural entity as a representation of the vengeful anguish and rage held by victims of senseless police abuse. This critical take is well-balanced with earnest depictions of police life, capturing the sizable weight that officers carry as they risk their lives to do what’s right for a community that treats them with dismissive disdain.
Director Malik Vitthal has operated as an underrated craftsman, with his directorial debut Imperial Dreams offering a well-realized portrait of a reformed gangster trying to make a better life for himself. With his latest effort, Vitthal displays his range as he soundly conducts the film’s blood-soaked thrills. He excels at developing a sense of unease throughout, letting still camerawork hold until revealing imaginative and fittingly brutal kills. I especially enjoyed the mixture of filmmaking styles, transitioning from mannered shots to clever uses of handheld police cams that keep the audience on their toes.
Considering how much Body Cam does right, it’s exceedingly frustrating seeing where the film falters. The premise is truly inspired, but McCarthy and Riedel’s script fails to follow-through with its conceit. The film rarely digs deeply-enough to capture the nuance of its relevant subject matter, ultimately having little to say aside from surface-level statements about the pain police brutality leaves. The genre hybrid approach is also not well-balanced enough, trying to manage both tonal identities instead of blending them as one.
Perhaps the offering’s biggest sin lies in its stilted dramatic backbone. Stars Mary J. Blige and Nat Wolff have proven their adept abilities, but their performances come off as stiff as they are stuck in thankless one-dimensional roles. I wish Vitthal had an opportunity to deliver the intimate emotionality of Imperial Dreams to this project, with every personal aspect feeling oddly distant despite its ripe potential.
Body Cam offers thrills that should please genre-enthusiasts, but the project sadly misses the boat in capturing its grander conceptual design. That being said, I have a lot of faith in Malik Vitthal’s career and am excited to see where the director goes from here.
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