When I was 15, I was obsessed with vlogs. More specifically, I was obsessed with vlogseries, where fictional narratives would be expressed through characters keeping video diaries. I thought this was a revolutionary style of filmmaking, but the first-person view and tiny budgets led to stationary and stagnant stories. This 2014 movie lurking in the bowels of Netflix's archive takes the vlog style and merges it with sci-fi, horror, and found footage elements to make what should have been the Blair Witch of the YouTube era.
Hungerford is a 2014 sci-fi zombie film written, directed and edited by then-19-year-old Drew Casson. He also stars in the film as Cowen Rosewell, recognizable by his mane of curly hair that screams "indie filmmaker." It begins like so many of the vlogseries I used to watch — with a justification. He needs to keep a video diary for his film class, so he introduces himself and his roommates: caring Philippa, aggressive parolee Adam, and Kip, who is also there.
It all seems like the beginning of a student film about the trials of being a teenager until there's an explosion outside. They go to investigate and are assured by the cops it's nothing, so they, brilliantly, decide to stick with their original plan of attending a party by Cowen's longtime crush. Needless to say, the party does not go well, resulting in a zombie alien infestation taking the form of huge, parasitic insects.
What follows is a film that feels amateur in a good way — if a shot looks badly composed, or dark, or the audio is bad, it's because the in-universe filming is bad. If the movie looked too good, it would ruin the immersive quality.
This is by no means the first vlog-style horror movie. The Blair Witch Project changed the game with its camcorder folk horror story. But recapturing that lightning in a bottle is challenging, and much more impressive directors have failed.
Iconic director M. Night Shyamalan made his own vlog-style horror movie, The Visit, a year after Hungerford's release. While The Visit used the same vlog framing device, the production value was far higher, so what's supposed to be just a 14-year-old girl's camcorder looks and sounds like a bulky, expensive, film-grade camera. Even the video calls in The Visit are in crisp HD, ruining anything resembling suspension of disbelief. It just looks too good to be true.
Hungerford makes no qualms about its amateur level. The acting is wavering, but it counteracts this with some improvised dialogue. The special effects are like a decent B-movie, but they're limited by having the deadly weapon that kills the parasites be simply spray-on deodorant.
With everything going against it, Hungerford makes the best use of its resources and sculpts a story that isn't good despite its limitations, but because of them. Not bad for a handful of teenagers and some GoPros.