Polaroid: A Snapshot of Standard Teen Horror

Maybe you remember seeing trailers for a movie about a ‘killer Polaroid camera’. And then … nothing. For whatever reason, Polaroid was delayed and delayed. Following Harvey Weinstein’s criminal charges and The Weinstein Company’s bankruptcy, Polaroid was permanently shelved. But along came independent studio Lantern Films. Now, along with distributor Vertical Entertainment, Polaroid is streaming on limited VOD platforms. So was the ‘haunted camera’ movie worth saving? Or should Polaroid have been left to collect dust?

Synopsis

Socially awkward high school student Bird Fletcher is gifted an old, rare Polaroid camera by friend, Tyler. Engraved into the camera are the initials, ‘RJS’. After Bird takes Tyler’s picture, she notices a strange shadow in the background of the photo. Hours later, an unseen entity brutally murders Tyler. With each picture Bird snaps with the Polaroid, a shadowy figure materializes in the photo. And the subjects of her photos, school friends, begin suffering horrific fates just like Tyler. Now Bird must uncover the identity of ‘RJS’ and the curse haunting the Polaroid before she’s next.

Polaroid Offers Safe, Bloodless Scares for Pre-Teens

Straight out of the gate, there’s nothing inherently wrong with PG-13 horror movies. Grindhouse gore is not a prerequisite for the genre. Plenty of exceptional horror movies have little in the way of explicit violence. But those movies also have genuine scares. For instance, A Quiet Place was PG-13, but it was a tense, roller-coaster of a horror movie. Comparatively, Polaroid is about as safe as it gets for PG-13 horror. Like last year’s Truth or Dare, Polaroid is more interested in setting up jump-scares than getting under your skin. There’s little in the way of atmosphere or tension. Anything remotely violent happens entirely off-screen. Though horror movies don’t need visceral violence, Polaroid feels particularly toothless.

Outside of the pre-teen crowd, few horror fans are likely to find much scary about Polaroid.

It’s unfortunate because Polaroid is a competently made horror movie. Aside from a few obvious CGI effects, nothing about the movie looks cheap. Director Lars Klevberg shows some visual style here and there, and keeps things moving at a brisk pace. In fact, Polaroid’s prologue – which sort of echoes The Ring – actually promises a better movie. Unfortunately, Klevberg’s jump scares are pretty rote and tame. Outside of the pre-teen crowd, few horror fans are likely to find much scary about Polaroid.

Like Its Titular Technology, Polaroid Feels Out of Date

Horror movies have an uneasy relationship with technology. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that horror movies know their audience is a little scared by technology. Over the years, we’ve seen killer VCR tapes (The Ring), evil virtual reality and video games (Brainscan, The Lawnmower Man), and out-of-control AI (Tau, Demon Seed). Techo-horror, which has been around for while, because most of us don’t know how these things work. Polaroid very much wants to be as good as The Ring. Unfortunatley, Polaroid suffers from a few storytelling problems. First and foremost, its target audience probably has no clue about this now archaic technology. At least when The Ring was released, people were still using VHS tapes.

At least when The Ring was released, people were still using VHS tapes.

Yet there’s a more basic story-telling problem – familiarity. Polaroid features a pretty rote narrative structure, even for teen horror fare. Our protagonist gets mysterious object, then later discovers it’s haunted. No one believes her despite a few unexplained deaths. After some junior sleuthing and a lot of expository dialogue, the protagonist discovers the source of the curse. Throw in a final ‘twist’ and a tidy ending … maybe tease a sequel. By and large, Polaroid follows the blueprint pretty closely. Though it looks like Polaroid will tackle a timely issue, the idea is quickly discarded for a more derivative ‘serial killer back from the grave’ tale.

Largely Unknown Cast Goes Through The Motions

Typically, these movies rely on a cast of young, generically attractive actors plucked from TV shows. But Polaroid’s young cast will likely be totally unfamiliar to most audiences. Aside from Riverdale’s Madeline Petsch – who isn’t around long – no one really stands out. Lead actress, Kathryn Prescott, is perfectly fine given her paper-thin character. However, some of the other performances fall on the stiff side. Poor Mitch Pileggi shows up in a supporting role in what must feel like a low-end X-Files episode.

Polaroid a ‘Run-of-the-Mill’ Teen Horror Movie

Neither outrightly terrible nor particularly memorable, Polaroid is just another ‘run-of-the-mill’ teen horror flick. It’s bloodless, inoffensive, and generic. Not unlike last year’s Truth or Dare, Polaroid is a bland, mildly engaging effort you’ll likely forget after watching it. But it’s a well-produced horror movie that may entertain at pre-teen sleepovers if it ever finds its way to Netflix.

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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