Bad Ben: DIY Found-Footage Haunts Familiar Ground

Cannibal Holocaust introduced the idea of ‘found-footage’. Nearly 20 years later, The Blair Witch Project fully embraced the concept. And when Paranormal Activity replaced the Saw franchise as the annual Halloween tradition, the found-footage horror (FFH) was officially its own subgenre. Though over-saturation has led to FFH fizzling out, hidden gems occasionally surface. Nigel Bach’s Bad Ben fell under a lot horror fans’ radars, but it’s somewhat of a ‘feel good’ movie-making story that’s worth a look.

Synopsis

Investor Tom Riley thinks he’s found the deal of a lifetime. He’s just purchased a beautiful, fully furnished house at a Sheriff’s Auction for a steal. Now he just needs to renovate the house and flip it to cash in on his investment. But no sooner than he’s arrived at the front door, strange things begin happening. Something sets of motion sensor cameras. Furniture turns over on its own. And then there’s a foul smell coming from the basement. As paranormal occurrences increase, it may be too late for the financially trapped Tom to get out.

Bad Ben Haunted By A Too Familiar Premise

Nigel Bach accomplished a lot with just an iPhone and home security cameras. Yet regardless of his DIY moxy, Bad Ben’s story is under-cooked. If we’re being perfectly blunt, Bad Ben throws together haunted house tropes that have been around for decades. There’s a burial site on the property (see Poltergeist). Bach’s ‘Tom Riley’ does obviously stupid things like digging said burial site up. Have you seen The Amityville Horror? Do you remember the famous, ‘Get Out’, moan? Yes, Bad Ben does something similar when the words, ‘Not Your House’ appear in the ashes of an upturned urn. Scary things reside in the attic, not unlike Paranormal Activity.

Yet regardless of his DIY moxy, Bad Ben’s story is under-cooked.

Familiarly itself isn’t the only problem. Bach fails to invest his movie with much mythology. There’s a fine line between lazy exposition and under-selling your story. Bad Ben drops some hints about the fate of the house’s previous occupants. And Bach gives us a few threads here and there. For instance, there’s the idea that Ben was a child with a ‘bad side’ hiding in the basement. But we don’t know enough to feel much anticipation or dread. It’s not that the movie doesn’t tell you what ‘Bad Ben’ is, rather that it just doesn’t offer much at all with which to invest.

Bad Ben Paces Itself Too Slowly

Found-footage horror works in two basic ways. First, found-footage exploits the ‘based on a true story’ narrative and low-quality camera work to evoke a sense that what you’re watching really happened. In essence, this is what makes FFH movies ‘scary’. Second, found-footage movies use an intermittent reinforcement schedule to build suspense. Sometimes nothing happens on screen. Other times, if you watch closely, creepy things transpire in the background. The ‘not knowing when’ something will happen elicits the tension. And as the movie progresses, the ‘scary’ gets ratcheted up.

Rather than progressively ratcheting up the tension, Bach just sort of dumps his ending on the audience.

Bad Ben has a few creepy moments. One or two scenes even approach feeling a little unsettling. Sadly, however, not enough happens across the movie. In fact, Bad Ben’s pacing borders on being glacial. Rather than progressively ratcheting up the tension, Bach just sort of dumps his ending on the audience. Sketchy special effects also dilute the climax as Bach probably extends himself a little too far. All of these problems in conjunction with the derivative story may leave a lot of viewers feeling underwhelmed.

Bach Deserves Credit for his DIY Innovation

Regardless of these problems, horror fans should give Bach lots of credit for what he pulls off with Bad Ben. He’s clearly working with a shoestring budget, and the movie is a literal one-man show. Though Bach doesn’t set the screen on fire, he more than capably convinces as an ‘average’ person who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances. It’s a movie assembled from just iPhone footage and security camera footage into a functional, if not familiar, narrative.

Bad Ben Needed More Time on Story Development

Bad Ben isn’t a bad movie. Far from it, in fact. As a filmmaker, Nigel Bach illustrates how accessible and simple technology can be employed for guerrilla movie-making. What’s missing from Bad Ben is a compelling story and a unique approach to familiar material. With a little more time devoted to the story, Bad Ben could have had further distinguished itself from similar FFH movies. For now, Bach demonstrates some potential as a filmmaker to keep an eye on.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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