'The 16th Episode': Film Review
Three vloggers encounter malevolent supernatural forces while traveling in Morocco in Jérôme Cohen-Olivar's horror film.
Horror films depicting travelers encountering malevolent forces in foreign locales are a time-honored cinematic tradition. (The stakes might be higher now, however, since hardly anything that could be seen onscreen seems more terrifying than purchasing a minibar drink in the Dominican Republic.) The latest indie effort from writer-director Jérôme Cohen-Olivar (The Midnight Orchestra, Kandisha) modestly succeeds in its modest genre goals, particularly benefiting from its exotic locations. But don't look for anything particularly original in The 16th Episode (originally titled Little Horror Movie), which mainly traffics in overly familiar tropes.
The title refers to the latest installment of "Permanent Residents," a YouTube globetrotting travel series representing a collaboration among spunky on-air host Helen (Rebecca Romon), ever-practical sound technician Einar (Einar Kuusk) and clownish cameraman Mark (Cody Heurer). (Why it's always the cameraman who provides the comic relief in these sorts of films is a question perhaps only horror obsessives can answer).
The film starts out strongly, with an arresting opening scene depicting the trio filming in the slums of Brazil and being interrupted by a young thief who steals Helen's cellphone. A chase through the favela streets ensues, and when they finally catch up with the robber it leads to a hair-raising encounter in which Helen demonstrates her fearlessness under pressure. Expertly photographed and edited, the harrowing sequence demonstrates the filmmaker's ability to achieve maximum effect with a minimal budget.
The bulk of the storyline takes place in the travelers' destination for their show's 16th episode, Casablanca, where they rent a room in a house owned by the mysterious Mrs. Frangier (Rosine Young, deliciously campy), who makes a point of warning them not to go into the basement. Mark, who seems to have a thing for older women, becomes immediately smitten. He also expresses to his colleagues his goal of making the "ultimate found-footage horror flick," the sort of meta humor in which this film frequently indulges. Indeed, much, but thankfully not all, of The 16th Episode is shot in the now exhausted style.
Attending a local wedding at the invitation of their guide (Abdellatif Chawki), the three vloggers find themselves at a strange celebration where Helen enthusiastically joins in and dances ecstatically, as if in a trance. A few days later, it becomes apparent that something is seriously wrong with her. She appears to have been possessed, displaying all the grotesque physical effects familiar from countless demonic possession horror films. Her condition, which we also learn is not something new to her, leads to the pic's most darkly amusing scene, in which her hapless colleagues attempt to perform an exorcism.
"You've seen every single possession movie there is, right?" Einar asks Mark. "Just say 'The power of Christ compels you about 99 times.'" Despite their best efforts, however, things don't go exactly as planned, and the proceedings become even more garishly baroque from there.
Cohen-Oliver does an effective job of balancing the scares and humor, displaying well-honed cinematic technique in the process. But the technical expertise doesn't prevent The 16th Episode from feeling hopelessly derivative. The film's most effective element is its extensive use of atmospheric Morocco locations, although don't look for it to be spotlighted by the country's tourism bureau anytime soon.
Production companies: Dark Island Pictures, Majick Films
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Rebecca Ramon, Einar Kuusk, Cody Wayne Heuer, Aouatefe Lahmani, Rosine Young
Director-screenwriter: Jérôme Cohen-Olivar
Producers: Jérôme Cohen Olivar, Michel Estegassy, Mohammed Rizky, Hinda Sikkal, Naima Sikkal
Director of photography: Adil Ayoub
Costume designer: Kenza Chaabi
Music: Kenneth Lampi, Darren Tate
Editor: Julien Foure