New release Therapy marks an exciting upwards trend for horror streaming service Shudder not only because it’s exclusive to them, but because the committee in charge of sniffing out new content is putting just as much care into Shudder exclusives as they are established genre necessities.
How else are you going to hear about a *worthwhile* French found footage indie from a 17-year-old director (Nathan Ambrosioni)? Studios don’t have to balls to back such lofty ambitions, which is where Shudder comes in, fast-forwarding the whole cult-classic process by purchasing rights to films you otherwise wouldn’t discover until two years from now based on a buddy’s recommendation. First Sadako V Kayako, now Therapy – horror friends, if you’re not on Shudder, we need to talk.
Ambrosioni’s criminal horror flick begins much like any found footage slasher would, as a group of vacationing friends stumble upon imminent danger. While camping, the gang hears screams from afar, and discover an abandoned building with suspicious vibes. After doing some investigating, someone with an axe appears – then their backwoods getaway turns into a murderous story of survival, psychosis and bloody mayhem.
Sounds super generic, right? It is – until the first batch of footage ends, and we’re plunged into a traditional narrative format that follows two cops assigned to an underway investigation. Many found-footage cynics joke about who would be watching/editing such footage and for what reasons – something Ambrosioni addresses as the police try to evaluate each nightmarish clip.
Officers can only watch one portion at a time as it’s recovered, and we meet the questionable evidence workers who prep said footage. Filmmaking bounces between two distinct visual styles, parallel with ongoing investigative work that slowly releases clues while answering all the questions that typical found-footage movies hope you won’t ask.
Ambrosioni thinks of everything in Therapy, and while separate functions may not be groundbreaking (you’ve seen a billion masked killers stalk isolated buildings before), thoughtful details makes this more than just boring found footage re-appropriation. I’ve seen plenty of those examples recently, and can confirm that Therapy offers far more.
Cameras keep rolling because it’s necessary, and footage is cued-up because lawmen must decipher the crime at hand. Even the guy working on each batch of digital film plays against (or right into) stereotypes, given how he treats each portion like an ongoing soap opera. “You’re going to LOVE this one,” he awkwardly and enthusiastically proclaims, only to be banished back downstairs with the other weirdlings. That’s always my favorite complaint from horror watchers – “who’s crazy enough to re-watch all this footage?” Well, this crazy night-shift pencil pusher for one. It’s his job, after all.
Without Ambrosioni’s investigative arc, the whole found-footage slasher angle loses poignancy. His killer is nothing more than a Jason Voorhees lookalike, right down to his lumbering stature. Quite a few times I wondered how any young victims were able to escape, when they’d turn and dart away from his menacing figure. Their masked pursuer would only be a few steps behind, yet time and time again he’d simply vanish. It’s supposed to represent a cat-and-mouse hunt contained within an isolated building (no escape, no mercy), but only works to hammer home slasher villain check-boxes dashed by every horror title since the 80s.
The real-time contrast of following a workaholic cop bolsters more traditional found-footage fare, scoring psychological haunts by virtue of professional realism (at base value). Even though most copycat subgenre films start with a title card about “the following footage” being released as evidence, Therapy gives actual reason and meaning.
A scarred investigator (played by a passionate Nathalie Couturier) must relive someone else’s hell so she can prosecute the correct party, and her devotion to truth ends up taking a jarring toll. No one is watching for the hell of it. Found footage “scares” act as a fluid part of a working machine, lessening the importance of jolts and recycled tactics that other movies attempt to lean on completely. Ambrosioni displays poise by positively manipulating a subgenre so many mishandle, crafting something that’s so much more than jumpy spooks and shaky cameras.
Therapy isn’t exactly a scream-per-minute endeavor, and might actually disappoint those only invested in found footage aspects. Nathan Ambrosioni’s film is smarter and meatier than so many throwaway first-person efforts, but this kind of vision may be better appreciated by the type of horror fan who can’t tolerate found footage safe bets – not fans of them. Be you in either pool, Therapy still gets a recommendation – but understand that this is a split-time psychological thriller by way of first and third person balancing acts. Appreciation here will come from audiences sick of horror norms, not those who revel in them. Know that going in, and join me in praising the promising start that Shudder boasts with their growing premiere catalog.
Therapy is a witty hybrid of narrative storytelling and found footage creeps, offering something meatier for horror fans to chew on.