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Panic Fest ‘22 Movie Review: Californians Get What’s Coming In Scott Slone’s “MALIBU HORROR STORY”

Sunday, May 15, 2022 | Reviews

By GRACE DETWILER

Starring Dylan Sprayberry, Robert Bailey Jr., Valentina de Angelis, Rebecca Forsythe
Written and Directed by Scott Slone
Sunny Oak Films

Despite its rather infamous reputation within the horror canon, found-footage is a particular brand of scary movie that is deeply dear to my heart. As a self-admitted Paranormal Activity connoisseur, there is no way in hell I’d miss a screening of what Dread Central is calling “the future of found footage”: Scott Slone’s MALIBU HORROR STORY. A mixed-media tale of two sets of Southern Californian young people who find themselves in the wrong place at the right time, MALIBU HORROR STORY seamlessly weaves together separate storylines taking place several years apart, alongside newscasts and found/documentary-style footage. Taking clues from The Blair Witch Project’s student documentary gone wrong, Slone’s film is genuinely frightening, shocking, and entertaining, even in the face of its own moral ambiguity. 

In MALIBU HORROR STORY, four paranormal investigators are assembling a YouTube vlog-style documentary about the mysterious disappearance of four Malibu High School graduates that had since become a cold case. After uncorrupting camera footage from the four missing young men, the investigators uncover undeniable proof that a violent supernatural entity was responsible for their deaths. Unfortunately for the documentarians, the vengeful spirit resides in the very cave in which they’d pitched camp for the night. And oh yeah, did we mention that one of the original missing boys is the descendant of an evil colonizer who massacred countless Native Americans on that very land? (Land still owned by his family – historically a Native American burial ground, of course.) With this conceit, MALIBU HORROR STORY attempts to make a progressive statement about the mistreatment of Native Peoples and their land; yet the film’s exploitative approach to the material may leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Aside from those missteps, however, MALIBU HORROR STORY is no doubt one of the better found-footage offerings released in recent years. The camera work, editing, horror sequences, and naturalistic exposition all work together to elevate this classically trashy flick into one of the jumpscare-powered rollercoasters worth taking a ride on in 2022. MALIBU HORROR STORY’s most impressive feature is the film’s patchwork assembly of multiple sources of “found footage.” Far from the days of a single-camera perspective, omniscient drone-like shots intersperse the more traditional found footage segments, as do real-time interludes of characters watching various clips in order to piece the disappearance narrative together. 

MALIBU HORROR STORY also makes excellent use of its ensemble cast, despite conspicuously killing off the characters of color first. Particularly entertaining are the antics of the four missing boys, played convincingly by Tommy Cramer, Hector Gomez Jr., Jacob Hughes, and Veno Miller. Also remarkable were the unnerving movements of Skinwalker possessing any given member of the cast. Summoned by a Native shaman to avenge the genocide of his people, the Skinwalker claims the soul of any trespasser onto the sacred lands. Aside from MALIBU HORROR STORY’s exoticization of Native American mythology and exploitation of the violent history of colonization, Scott Slone’s film is essentially successful at justifying its means to a horrifying end for the unfortunate team of investigators. 

 

Grace Detwiler
Rue Morgue's Online Assistant Editor - Grace Detwiler (@finalgirlgrace) is a freelance film journalist and law student. Her original work can be found on her blog, FinalGirlGrace, as well as in Rue Morgue's print and online publications.