The Last Broadcast (1998)
★★★ / ★★★★
Known as the inspiration of Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez’ “The Blair Witch Project,” “The Last Broadcast” is an effective faux-documentary, not a found footage film that some may incorrectly lead others to believe. The camera doesn’t just sit on one spot or lugged around. The majority of the picture consists of looking into a crime by hearing from professionals and law enforcers, going over the identities of those involved, sifting through evidence after the murders, putting together clips from various perspectives, and posing questions such as what really happened in the woods and what is the mythical Jersey Devil.
Co-writers and co-directors Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiller, also playing two of the victims, are able to create an engaging crime-mystery. It is so interesting and so creepy, I found myself feeling cold in the middle of it, forgetting once in a while that its contents are entirely fictional. Strong horror films grab the viewers by the throat and don’t let go until the credits roll. Although its final five to ten minutes are somewhat laughable and ridiculous, the rest is near perfect in terms of what it sets out to accomplish.
The mystery involves forty-seven pieces of scattered body parts in Pine Barrens, New Jersey. The investigators found no evidence of struggle, no footprints, not even a hint of the kind weapon used to commit the grizzly murders. But they did have a suspect: Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), a self-proclaimed psychic who volunteered to guide the co-hosts of “Fact or Fiction” (Avalos and Weiller), a local cable TV paranormal variety show. There is a fourth man involved, Rein Clackin (Rein Clabbers), the soundman… but his body was never found, only his hat and a whole lot of blood.
Most impressive about the picture is that it doesn’t bother to amp up the scares in any obvious manner. In fact, it employs a relaxed approach through simple gestures like a flashcard that reads, “The following people are not actors.” A handful of actors portraying various professionals command an authenticity to them. It is in how they sit, how they present their findings and what these might mean, how they look at the camera with utmost solemnity.
When it does show footages of the soon-to-be dead men in the woods, the camera shakes but never to a point where it is dizzying or unbearable. For instance, nobody runs away from danger and the camera just so happens to point down at the ground as holder huffs and puffs to safety. For a movie with a budget of $900, it is professional, commanding a high level of control that more expensive projects severely lack. Further, it is a great decision to show so-called found footages only in parts and so over time it is like putting together the pieces of a complex puzzle.
“The Last Broadcast” is impaired by the sudden, out of place, frustratingly ineffective third person perspective during its closing minutes. One gets the impression that Avalos and Weiller felt the need to provide a definite or concrete answer as to what really happened out there in the woods rather than trusting the audience to come up with their own conclusions. Sometimes it is the right move to end a story, when just about every element is done right, on vague terms—as what should have been done here. Still, the rest is absorbing.