When it comes to horror, we’ve come to expect a handful of genre platitudes. A select few of these platitudes can involve elevated string music, foreseen jump scares, maladroit protagonists, creaking doors, malefic spirits, dogged murderers who have nine lives, and eerily quiet and barren locations that scream of literal horror. Sometimes, there’s no getting around these clichés, but a filmmaker can still effectively exploit them, either for paranormal, slasher, or sardonic effect. Body Cam weaves together supernatural hokum, amplified barbarity, and semi-complete social commentary on police corruption, and the result is an indisputably twisted supernatural cop thriller that’s compellingly lugubrious.
The film opens on a rainy and inclement Los Angeles night, and a cop named Kevin Ganning (Ian Casselberry) walks into a local diner and finds the aura of the diner to be palpably unsettled, largely because the local news on the TV is reporting unbridled violence between the police and the citizens they’re sworn to protect. Kevin Ganning continues with his shift, and he pulls over a van with no plates. Officer Ganning orders the person to get out of the car, but something appears frightfully off. A fraught woman (Anika Noni Rose) slowly gets out of the car, and Officer Ganning is inexplicably launched into the air by a cryptic entity.
A flashback takes us 12 hours earlier before the van incident, and that’s where we meet Renee (Mary J. Blige of Mudbound, in her first starring role) and Danny (Nat Wolff). After being suspended for hitting a disrespectful civilian, and losing her son to a swimming-accident not long before being suspended, Renee is ready to come back to the police force. She’s paired up with Danny, who’s not necessarily new, but he’s still young, and that alone impels fellow police officers to tease him. It’s Renee and Danny who find Officer Ganning’s ruined cop car and mangled body. Renee looks at the dashcam footage and makes out the woman, but Renee also senses something supernatural. For whatever reason, Renee is the only one who can see the footage, while IT says the content is damaged. As expected, everyone thinks she’s losing it.
As the body count of fellow police officers proliferates, Renee finds herself drawn to a culprit that no one else can even fathom, let alone see on the dashcam or surveillance footage. She sees the lead through with her pusillanimous partner, Danny, who grows increasingly drained from the job and all of the violence it entails. Renee’s off-the-book investigation of the cop murders leads to a grave divulgence of a police cover-up. Will Renee stop the vengeful entity, or will she help it, considering the corruption that plagues her precinct?
In Body Cam, The Past Comes Back To Haunt The Wrongdoers — This Time, They’re Cops
Malik Vitthal’s latest horror film, Body Cam, builds off the opportune issue of police brutality and renders a blood-soaked horror venture out of it. But unlike Jordan Peele’s Get Out, race isn’t the guiding factor behind the story, rage and retribution are. Body Cam is a supernatural vengeance fantasy that is garishly aware of the hot button topic it’s exploiting, and that is in no way a bad thing. Whether the film delivers on its promises is another thing entirely.
The film sets the stage on a dreary L.A. night, and a brutal murder of a police officer is particularly effective. In the next few minutes, the heartsick Renee, played by a capable Mary J. Blige in her first starring role, is returning to the job after 8 months. She’s introduced to Danny, her new youthful partner, played by a convincingly tense Nat Wolff. Renee and Danny are the ones who find the lacerated police officer, and Renee, being the only one who can watch the dashcam footage, tries to inform her colleagues that she saw the footage, but they either don’t believe her, or they blame her for tinkering with evidence when she’s not supposed to.
Renee continues to investigate, however, and she easily comes up with leads — which does come across as frustratingly convenient. In all honesty, the mystery component is faintly debilitated because of how effortless the investigation is going for Renee. For the most part, Renee finds herself exploring derelict and vacant buildings, and hearing a noise or two. These scenes are needlessly prolonged and irksomely unavailing, causing the pacing to suffer. Perhaps in a more experienced horror filmmaker’s hands, these meandering scenes could’ve been more suspenseful. But even in these defective tension-building scenes, there are other times where Malik Vitthal deftly develops tension and shock.
An immensely gripping sequence at a liquor store instantly comes to mind as notably frightful. When two police officers detect the same van from the crime scene of the murdered police officer at a local liquor shop, they go in to inspect, unknowing that there are two other armed men in the store prepared to rob the store. Vitthal makes full use of the constricted setting overrun by thugs, police officers, and a paranormal force, as he adeptly collates frenetic gunfire with supernatural havoc.
As Renee’s investigation takes her from one abandoned building to the next, she eventually learns about a police cover-up that’s both tragic and acutely repulsive. But the gut-wrenching reveal is not as thematically consequential as it should be. Body Cam doesn’t hinge on social commentary as much as it should, but as a pure horror film, the atmosphere and tone are consistently bleak, and the kills are appealingly warped and gruesome.
Body Cam: Conclusion
Malik Vitthal’s Body Cam could’ve worked fine without the supernatural element, seeing how dangerous the job can be without the spectral histrionics. Even so, I still find the idea of a horror film that tackles police corruption a clever concept that could spark conversation, along with blood-soaked thrills. As of right now, I’m fine with the latter, and I appreciate the ambition and brazenly graphic violence Vitthal incorporated into the film.
Body Cam doesn’t quite offer a stimulating rumination on police corruption, nor does it examine its characters with enough scrutiny. Renee’s deep-seated trauma feels slightly feigned, but Mary J. Blige brings some depth to the character. Danny’s feelings of guilt are left unsaid, deliberately so, but Nat Wolff’s forlorn eyes hint to a greater evil he has yet to face. This unseen “evil” may be supernatural, but as captured in Body Cam, not every source of evil is created out of naturality. Malik Vitthal’s Body Cam is a forbidding tale of revenge that comes at you with speciously righteous fury, and that fury lingers.
Have you seen Body Cam? If so, what are your thoughts? If not, are you interested in seeing it now? Let us know in the comments!
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