Mockumentaries have long been a staple within the genre, they can fall under the subgenre of Found Footage, they can be serious with excellent cinematography, or they can be an amalgamation of different subgenres and multiple shooting styles. What We Do In The Shadows is without a doubt one of the most successful comedy-horror mockumentaries, spawning a television series, of the same name, and even a spin-off show called Wellington Paranormal. Shadows was an excellent blend of horror ideas but it was mainly overshadowed by its tongue and cheekiness; relying more on the comedy and using the idea of vampires and other mythical creatures to fill the horror category. When The Screaming Starts, on the other hand, uses its comedy to propel the horror and in turn, this creates a wonderful blend that gives you no expectations, while simultaneously blowing any expectations you had away.
When The Screaming Starts follows documentary filmmaker Norman (Jared Rogers) as he plans to make a film about wannabe serial killer Aidan (Ed Hartland). Aidan and his girlfriend Claire (Kaitlin Reynell) soon decide the best way to go about this is by starting a “family.” There is a comical bit about Norman congratulating them for their pregnancy, this is when we find out that the “family” Aidan and Claire are referring to is more akin to a Manson-like cult. Through a highly comical audition scene, we are finally introduced to our cast of misfits, and soon the killing, and the screaming, will start.
At its core, the idea of this film is pretty solid, but not unlike things that have come before it. It could be compared to Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon, but whereas Behind The Mask acts more as a meta love letter to slasher films, When The Screaming Starts ends up taking a bit more of a serious tone. It digs into a few complex issues, and comments on the human condition, “family” values, falling out of love, falling in love, and the mental toll that committing such heinous acts can come with. The comedic aspects of this film underline the severity of some of the scenes and bring a bit of levity to the more serious elements brought forth in Conor Boru and Ed Hartland’s tight script.
When it comes to character chemistry a lot of that work does fall onto an actor’s shoulders if they can’t pull off the source material then a) they have nothing to work with and b) obviously the film will fall flat. Thankfully, for all of us, the actors embody the roles they play and do a fantastic job with Boru and Hartland’s script. At no point does it feel like they were forcing any comedic bits, which Shadows can be guilty of at points, as every actor does a great job at portraying whatever emotion they needed to at any point.
One side point I need to make is about the weapons training scene. A lot of times when it comes to action movies [and obviously horror movies] there’s that cliché lock-and-load scene where they get all of their weapons together to prepare for their fight. Screaming does that but in a completely unique way, where they have their soon-to-be serial killers go through a weapons training scene. While not a one-to-one comparison to a gearing-up montage, it has a similar effect. It acts as a catalyst for the action to come but also gives us a brief look into the psyche of each character and how they will probably be interacting with their upcoming victims. The scene is absolutely hilarious, and it does the film such a great service that the scene is played for laughs rather than a “let’s go” moment.
The scenes of killing are handled in a few different ways. Our main scene that is constantly being alluded to through the first half of the film is shot mainly through the camera crew following the family. The decision to shoot that scene as chaotically as they did brings frantic energy to the film, and makes you forget about every funny moment that happened before; we’re thrown into this hodgepodge of brutal murder that takes such a tonal shift from what this film has conditioned us to be used to. Director Conor Boru puts faith in the audience to accept the tonal shift and immediately trusts the audience to be ready to jump back into the lesser emotionally taxing moments.
Effects, practical and visual, can make or break a film like this. When going forth to make a mockumentary if you want people to take that semi-realistic view of your film seriously you have to really put effort into making scenes of ultraviolence look, well, good. The SFX person/team on this film does an excellent job at making the kills look a bit too realistic and downright great. Honestly, the only thing I could ask for more of in this film is kills, mainly because the film excels in those moments of brutality. You get to see all of these different characters, who Aidan and Claire basically picked out of a hat, and explore their different complex emotions in these moments. It would have been interesting to see a few one-off kills from these characters to see if they had murder motifs that would provide some more insight into who they are.
When The Screaming Starts has appeal that fans of straight-up horror will enjoy, proving that it can stand on its own as a horror film that uses bits of comedy to lull us into a sense of ease. At no point does its violence, and for certain characters, their lack of, feel grotesque for the sake of it, rather it is used as a character tool. Conor Boru has made something special with his directorial feature debut, and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.