Malibu Horror Story Puts a Fantastic Twist on a Classic Trope

Image provided by Iconic Events Releasing

I’m not going to lie, when I first heard about Malibu Horror Story, I snickered a bit. The name sounded really generic, so I didn’t think I’d have any interest in the film. But then I watched the trailer, and to my surprise, it actually won me over. I thought this movie looked genuinely creepy, so I decided to roll the dice and give it a shot. I requested a screener right away, and now that I’ve had the chance to watch it, I’m happy to report that this film is way better than its title might suggest.

Malibu Horror Story was written and directed by Scott Slone, and it stars Dylan Sprayberry, Robert Bailey Jr., Valentina de Angelis, Rebecca Forsythe, “Twisty” Troy James, Douglas Tait, Tommy Cramer, Veno Miller, Jacob Hughes, and Hector Gomez Jr. The movie follows a team of paranormal investigators as they explore the mystery of four teenagers who went missing several years ago shortly after graduating from high school. They analyze some camera footage the kids left behind and use it to make a documentary, and when they restore some damaged pieces of that footage, they learn that the truth behind this unsolved case is much more terrifying than anybody could’ve imagined.

On paper, that might sound a bit generic, but trust me, Malibu Horror Story is actually one of the most original horror films I’ve seen in a while. See, even though the plot is fairly run-of-the-mill, the movie is structured in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It’s kind of like a cinematic onion, with three distinct layers snuggled firmly inside one another.

On the outside, you have the story of the paranormal investigators. They’re in the cave where the teenagers’ camera footage ends, and they’re trying to contact the spirits they believe caused these kids’ disappearance. Then, soon after we’re introduced to this team, two of them sit down and watch the latest version of the documentary they’re making, and from there, the film turns into a mockumentary, complete with interviews, news footage, and commentary from the documentarians themselves. However, the bulk of this documentary is simply the footage from the missing teenagers’ camera, so for much of its runtime, Malibu Horror Story is basically just a found-footage movie.

Two people looking scared
Image provided by Iconic Events Releasing

To be fair, none of those layers are all that original in themselves. Found footage and mockumentaries have been done a million times before, and traditional narrative storytelling is, well, very traditional. But what makes Malibu Horror Story unique is the way it combines those three styles. Like I said before, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them stitched together quite like this, so for its originality alone, this film is pretty much a must-see for any hardcore horror fan.

That being said, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Malibu Horror Story is more than just a one-trick pony. It also tells a captivating story with believable characters, so let’s go through its three layers one by one and see how they add to the overall experience.

First, we have the story of the paranormal investigators, and I have to be honest, this is probably the weakest part of the film. The budgetary restrictions are pretty obvious, so everything from the setting to the gore looks like a movie rather than real life. It makes you very cognizant that you’re just watching actors playing out a script, so it can be a bit tough to immerse yourself in the story.

Now, low production value doesn’t normally bother me too much, but in this layer of Malibu Horror Story, it sticks out like a sore thumb. In particular, it becomes really noticeable after you watch the found-footage portion of the film. The teenagers’ camera footage looks super realistic, so when you go back to the paranormal investigators, it’s tough to ignore the big difference in quality.

However, when we get to the final act, none of that matters. The final 20 minutes or so of Malibu Horror Story are jam-packed with a whole bunch of excellent horror, and it’s so good you won’t even care about the low production value. For example, writer/director Scott Slone does an amazing job of creating tension and then sustaining it for long periods of time, so you’ll be on the edge of your seat just about the whole way through. Then, when he releases that tension with a big scare or a chase sequence, he never lets the quality of the horror slip. The payoff in these scenes is just as good as the setup, so Slone never allows you to let your guard down.

A monster in a cave
Image provided by Iconic Events Releasing

Next, let’s talk about the mockumentary portion of Malibu Horror Story. Much like the outer layer, the production value in this part is also a bit weak, but once again, the movie makes up for that deficiency in an awesome way. The story of the kids’ unexpected disappearance and their community’s search for them is pretty captivating, and it takes a number of really interesting Lake Mungo-esque twists and turns. So even before the horror hits, you’ll already be totally invested in this mystery, and you’ll be chomping at the bit to learn what really happened.

Last but not least, we have the inner layer, the found-footage section. This is hands down the best part of Malibu Horror Story, and I’d even go so far as to say that it’s just about flawless. I already mentioned the completely realistic production value, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The actors who play the teenagers also do an amazing job of making their characters feel like real high school graduates, so you’ll have no trouble at all buying into this portion of the film.

On top of that, the horror in this section is also pretty fantastic. It starts off as a fairly slow-burn, almost The Blair Witch Project-esque mystery that unravels at a nearly perfect pace, and every time a new layer gets added to this puzzle, it’ll just captivate and tantalize you even more. Then, when the movie finally pulls back the curtain and shows its hand, it turns into nonstop tension and action. It’s absolutely relentless, and it’s some of the most fun horror I’ve seen all year.

On the flipside, my one criticism of this portion of Malibu Horror Story is that it falls prey to the most common problem with the found-footage style. At a certain point, you wonder why the kids are still filming this nightmare, and that question took me out of the film a tiny bit.

But in the grand scheme of things, the good in both this layer as well as the movie as a whole far outweighs the bad, so I had a great time with Malibu Horror Story. It’s an excellent new twist on the typical found-footage formula, but unlike a lot of found-footage films, it’s not just a glorified cinematographic gimmick. There’s some real storytelling substance here as well, and the horror in this movie would be just as effective in any style. In a word, Malibu Horror Story is the real deal, so I highly recommend that you check it out.

Malibu Horror Story is set to hit theaters on October 20.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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