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The KAOS Brief review: Blair Witch meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind

| Cinema, Festivals | 12/05/2017

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Last week saw the European premiere of new sci-fi thriller The KAOS Brief at Stratford Picture House as part of this year’s ‘London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film’, a.k.a. Sci-Fi-London 17.  

Cora Robertson attended the screening and Q&A session for What’s On London, and was full of praise for JP Mandarino’s first feature film – “a really enjoyable romp through a host of sci-fi and horror tropes” – which manages to fuse the best aspects of The Blair Witch Project with Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Dakota and Sky Reaction to Tren DeathIf I’ve learnt one thing from watching horror movies over the years, it’s that four American teenagers heading out alone into the woods can lead to nothing but trouble.  And The KAOS Brief doesn’t disappoint on this front, or on many others.

JP Mandarino’s ‘found footage’ film features pretty boy vlogger Skylar, played by Drew Lipson (Murder Among Friends), his twin sister Dakota (Charlie Morgan Patton, Alongside Night) and their respective boyfriends Corey (Marco DelVecchio) and Tren (Akanimo Eyo).  They form two modern couples – one gay and one mixed-race – which is thankfully treated matter-of-factly.

The quartet head off on a camping trip, documenting it along the way with their trusty iPhones and camera drones – a nicely updated take on the shaky Super 8.  But it’s not long before they notice strange lights in the sky and things start to go badly wrong.  To avoid spoilers, I’ll skip over the details but – suffice to say – unexplainable phenomena occur, the kids investigate, shadowy figures get annoyed and bad things happen.

Tren SurgeryIt’s a tried and tested formula, but that’s no great criticism as the movie is a really enjoyable romp through a host of horror tropes.  Fans of The Cabin in the Woods and The Exorcist will spot homages, and there are plenty of others – not least, The Blair Witch Project.

Like Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez’s 1999 classic, The KAOS Brief is a low-budget production with much of the footage filmed by the actors themselves, who coped admirably with their dual roles.

Afterwards, Charlie Morgan Patton admitted that having to film and act made the role challenging.  However, she told me she had managed to “dig deep as a Millennial” to find the iPhone skills necessary to make the footage both authentic and compelling.  Akanimo Eyo added that they should also “thank Snapchat” for helping to make filming life second nature to their generation.

Akanimo Eyo, Charlie Morgan Patton, JP Mandarino (2)With such an inexperienced – albeit talented – film crew, huge credit must go to Mandarino for directing, co-producing and writing The KAOS Brief.  It’s an impressive first feature film from the American who’s been involved in the film industry for over 20 years, focusing primarily on commercials and shorts.

And it would be wrong to brand his effort as simply ‘Blair Witch for Millennials’, because he’s injected something different into this work: a Close Encounters of the Third Kind quality.

Spielberg’s classic is now 40 years old and – although alien movies keep getting commissioned – it’s become increasingly unusual to host them here on Earth.  Those sharing Mandarino’s love for sci-fi horror are usually forced to rely on space to provide the backdrop, increasing the solitude, vulnerability and (so goes the current orthodoxy) believability.  See the excellent Life and Alien: Covenant for cases in point.  But in bringing the aliens here amongst us – to the very woods we go camping in – Mandarino draws us into his life-long obsession with UFOs in a refreshingly visceral way.

Check local cinema listings for details of when and where you can see The KAOS Brief.  Also see the official websiteFacebook page and Twitter account @KaosBrief for more details.  

And if you just can’t wait, take a look at the trailer here.

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