The Upper Footage (2013)

Call it "word of mouth," call it "street buzz," call it "hype," anyway you slice it, if something peaks the public's interest in a film it has to be a good thing right? The Upper Footage (Upper in some circles) is a film you've probably never heard of but you've certainly seen some of the viral marketing designed to create that "hype" or "buzz." Director Justin Cole originally posted his first viral video on YouTube over 3 years ago. But it just wasn't the fact that there was some "footage" of an upcoming film that had leaked on line, it was the nature and the feel of that footage. Perhaps for the first time since The Blair Witch Project the audience clicking on the preview was challenged with the question "Is this real?"

That first "leaked footage" ignited a media fire storm. It was nothing but a brief clip of some upper crust New York Socialites partying their faces off on a typical Friday night. With their faces blurred, online speculation started a frenzy. It was  a frenzy that bubbled all the way up to such reputable media programs as Entertainment Tonight. Said program led a segment of a show with a clip of the leaked footage and then a brief statement from a then Disney star (Chelsea Kane) denying that she was the "short haired blonde" ingesting line after line of cocaine in the footage. Then as quickly as the clip appeared it disappeared. A short while later a second clip surfaced, this time showing a young girl, her face again blurred out, vomiting in the bathroom. This clip felt more sinister and with the the idea that this was "real," even more speculation began to abound. Was that Demi Levato bent over the toilet? Was there really footage of a girl dying on the video? Did Quentin Tarantino really purchase the footage to prep it for a consumer release? 

All of this turned out to be false, but it didn't stop the hype machine. Cole made the genius move of
casting a real life New York socialite vlogger in the film and having them present the film as a real video. In the end the video was said to show an extreme party that got out of control, leading the death - caught on camera, of one of the girls and the subsequent attempted cover up. An that's exactly what the film is about.

Five snobby, upper crust, trust fund kids plan another night of drunken, coke filled debauchery. It seems to be something they've all done before. This time though they are taping it (Yes, it's "found footage" - Get over it). They head downtown because one of the guys wants to pick up "a poor chick to fuck." One they find the "poor girl" they take her back to the Upper West Side where they continuously mock her while feeding her copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine. When she disappears in to the bathroom to literally puke her guts out - they could care less. They continue their shitty treatment leaving her to wallow in her own filth, only disappointed they won't get to fuck her later. When she doesn't return from the bathroom for a substantial period of time they check on her only to find her body draped over the bidet - dead.

Here is where the film really gets going. While Cole spends the first half of the film building to this seemingly inevitable crescendo, it feels a bit stereotypical in a way - like a film. It's only after the death that things begin to feel eerily real. The decisions, the mistakes that are made - all seem to take place in a vacuum that can only exist in some sort of fucked up privileged, rich kid mentality. Cole has shown us the lowest of the low for 45 minutes - and things only go down hill from there. Eventually, some of the characters grow a conscience and realize that they may have (gasp!) done something wrong. But it's too little too late for them, they are way too far down the slippery slope to hope to crawl back into anyone's good graces.

As simply a film, The Upper Footage is an above average thriller. Consider it the bastardized cousin of Danny Boyles' Shallow Ground. It's certainly derivative of many things that we've seen before in concept. But as an entire product from soup to nuts The Upper Footage is tremendous. From the hype machine preceding the film, to Coles' little tweeks like blurring out "the victims" face throughout the film, to his cutting the victims nude scene short out of "respect for her family" - everything is done so well. Even after he came out and admitted that this was indeed a film, it's extremely hard to remember that's what it is, given the package it's presented in.

I remember growing up in video rental age. There was a series of videos called Faces Of Death that as purported to be actual footage of people dying spliced together into a feature length film. I'm pretty sure most of these clips were determined to be fakes - but that didn't stop folks from renting the videos. There is a morbid curiosity we have as a society. We are curious about death. We want to know what it looks like, what it sounds like, sometimes what it feels like. It's this curiosity that led to the success of Faces Of Death. It's this curiosity that leads me to believe that a televised execution would get better ratings than the Super Bowl (especially if you could bet on how long it would take the bastard to die). And it's that same curiosity that drove Justin Cole to make The Upper Footage and for us to watch it.

Cole has created a Faces Of Death moment for the new millennium and for a brief second had everyone convinced that, unlike the original "Faces," his video was the real deal. The Upper Footage is a pretty damn good film, but it's and even better experience. Check it out! The Upper Footage is currently available on Vimeo and various other streaming services.

**** out of ***** stars

Thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich"

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