'The Death of April' (2022) - Fresh Spin on Found Footage in this Paranormal Mystery
Moving away from a childhood home to find oneself can be the adventure of a lifetime for some. For others, the new surroundings and loneliness can be too much. In this mockumentary/found footage hybrid, The Death of April, writer/ director Ruben Rodriguez (It's Here) chronicles one girl's journey from the hopeful possibilities of a new city. To the horrors, she'll discover in her new home. Staring Katarina Hughes (Pretty Problems), Amy Rutledge (Rent-A-Pal), Stephanie Domini, and Adam Lowder.
Megan Mullen (Hughes) has a loving family, great friends, and a happy life in California. So, when she decides to pack up and leave for the East Coast, her loved ones are more than a little confused. Wide-eyed and ready to begin her new life, Meg decides to start a Vlog (video blog) to share with those back home. The narrative is told from the perspective of Megan's webcam, sharing exciting news and daily routines to showing off her new apartment, which she proudly decorated herself.
Intercut with the recordings are interviews with her family and those familiar with the case. Mom, Stephanie (Domini), Dad, Jason (Travis Peters), brother Stephen (Lowder), and her best friend, Heather. The use of home video and old photos gives depth and history to the family and familiarizes us with Megan as she once was. The reminiscing tones and somber dialect make us suspect something sinister has occurred. It sets a swinging pendulum mood over the narrative. It draws the audience in as their segments are at odds with the hopeful nature of Megan's video diary.
What began as a brief daily update slowly spirals out of control as Megan can't seem to function without a camera rolling, much to the annoyance of her new boyfriend and visiting company. Her videos' fun, optimistic nature takes a turn for the bizarre as her behavior on camera becomes more erratic, destructive, and disturbing. The personality change hints at a supernatural presence as we see doors opening and closing and objects moving in the frame, unbeknownst to Megan at first.
The latter half of the movie becomes more dramatic and investigatory as Megan becomes obsessed with a cold case involving a young woman murdered in her apartment. The personal connection she feels to the victim, trying to make contact via a Quija board (never a good idea), and the escalating activity in her home drive Megan into madness as she feels the two are connected. It all culminates in a shocking reveal that will change the lives of Megan and those who know her best.
The Death of April takes its cues from genre favorites Lake Mungo and Paranormal Activity. Still, the scares are mild at best, opting for a more unsettling vibe. So much of the "found footage" is from the point of view of the laptop. Rodriguez effectively frames the camera for maximum dread, expecting something creepy to peek around each door frame. Unfortunately, there were missed opportunities for genuine scares and goosebumps moments. Keeping the shots static was a welcome change from the shaky and nauseating images we are accustomed to with found footage. The use of sound design, especially during the night scenes, really gets under your skin.
A few troupes are glaring, seem convenient, or are just out of place. The brother meets a girl, Kim (Rutledge), on the flight to visit his sister, only to have her be a medium. Megan, in the backyard, in a rainstorm, staring creepily at nothing, suggests a new thread that is never explored. No one believes in ghosts even though glass is shattered in front of them or a video of moving objects is shown. However, they're not enough to take you out of the story, just a subtle head-scratching.
I couldn't tell you how much was scripted versus improvised, but there wasn't a moment that I felt the characters weren't authentic. It's a testament to the actors and their commitment to their persona. Each supporting cast fits into the world they've created. You forget, at times, you're not watching an actual Dateline story as their delivery is naturalistic. As Megan, Katerina Hughes does all the heavy lifting. The transformation of a young, arrogant, free-spirited girl without supervision for the first time into the broken, obsessive woman in those final entries is seamless. She carries the movie proudly.
The Death of April is a compelling tale of descent, obsession, and loss of innocence through clever use of the found footage motif. Using conflicting perspectives is a unique take on the subgenre and makes you question your assumptions of the outcome. A naturalistic and talented cast and an engaging mystery keep you interested in how it will end despite moments of repetition. If you're up for a more unsettling rather than scary paranormal tale, watch it when it's released digitally on December 9th from Terror Films.