What is The Upper Footage? What does the phrase “upper footage” mean? These are questions filmmaker Justin Cole would like us to ask, and presumably take them where everyone takes questions these days: Google.
The premise of the film is a simple one, setup via text on a black screen: raw footage exists that shows the graphic overdose and death of a woman. Over the course of nearly six minutes of text rolling past, broken by short bursts of pixelated, shaky footage, we learn about said footage, and why details about said death are difficult to come by – much like The Blair Witch Project (or Cannibal Holocaust, or Fargo, for that matter), this is a fictional film that attempts to strengthen its power through claims of being real. In this case, those claims are assisted by a web presence dating back to 2010, starting with some shaky footage on YouTube of what I assume was one of the film’s party scenes, the faces of the people involved pixelated into oblivion. The claims of it being real footage of a socialite overdose caused rumors to spread (or, rumors were spread by the filmmaker; I’m not sure which) – in this case, placing suspicion on young starlets Chelsea Kane, Miley Cyrus, and Demi Lovato. More bizarre was the purported claim that Tarantino had tried to buy the footage, and intended to make a film about it, as well as release it raw. If anything smelled false, it was this. I won’t detail any more of The Upper Footage’s online metafiction, but it’s certainly been done at a noteworthy level of dedication and sophistication.
After those six minutes of tenuous real world connections draw to a close, we’re into the film proper – shaky, handheld footage not dissimilar from the majority of found footage films. The movie follows a group of affluent, entitled young people taking in what we have to assume is a typical night on the town. We’re dropped into a douchebag ride along, privy to every f-bomb, bedpost-notch brag, and racial slur. If you’re not pissed off with lines like, “She looks like a fuckin’ 13 year old. That’s awesome shit,” or, “Hanging out with fags is like hanging out with a bunch of goddamn retards,” then perhaps this film isn’t going to work on you quite the way Justin Cole intends it. He wants us pissed off, full of hate – this is a horror movie where the monster is the super-rich, where the horror is a society that celebrates emptiness and consumption and whose rules are rigged in the favored’s favor. We’re stuck in a limo with monsters of inexhaustible appetites, the means to act on them, and the freedom to pursue them to their inevitable depths without repercussion. Cole is clearly outraged that such egregious inequality is allowed to exist, and he wants us to be, too.
The acting here is quite good and believable, and Cole does sustain his desired sense of realism. Unfortunately, the film is a bit of a slog – once we know where it’s headed, there’s few traditional film pleasures to keep you stimulated. There’s not much visually interesting about footage designed to look like it was filmed by an amateur on a drunken, drug-fuelled binge night, and the repetition of bro talk, coke, and booze is wearing. I’ll err on the side of intent here, though – I think Cole wants us ground down, exhausted, fed up. It’s not a particularly fun watch, but it’s effective.
I’m still not exactly sure what The Upper Footage means – perhaps Upper refers to upper class? What I am sure of is that there is intelligence here, a unique film made by a filmmaker with a unique vision and a sophisticated grasp of the online world. It can be a trying watch, it’s more than a little rough, but it’s also memorable and thought provoking, and it’s rare to see a horror film with a political heart. If you’re up for something a little different, for a film that uses The Blair Witch Project as a jumping off point to explore the ugliness of inequality and classism, The Upper Footage is worth the trip.