Malibu Horror Story: A Fresh Take on Found-Footage Horror
As horror movements and modern technology evolve in tandem, movies like Malibu Horror Story prove that no subgenre is dead. Found footage has survived detrimental “shaky cam” complaints to spin into computer-based “Screenlife” tales, deranged smartphone livestreams, or Scott Slone’s latest foray into deadly first-person recordings, a blend of primetime true crime programs and interrupted documentary shoots. It’s not an unprecedented formula – The Poughkeepsie Tapes and Horror in the High Desert both have talking-head commentary, but Malibu Horror Story tweaks the concept by pitting paranormal investigators against indigenous evils before their special ever airs. The cave-dwelling frights of Slone’s film sometimes fail to equal the rejuvenating sensation of its structure, but there’s enough here that feels timely and fresh.
Malibu Horror Story centers on the efforts of ghost hunters who’ve made camp in a sacred California cave where four teens previously disappeared. Josh Davidson (Dylan Sprayberry) and his three collaborators are searching for answers, but Slone doesn’t want to waste the horrors of what happened to the high schoolers who vanished in that very cave. Through camera trickery that stretches the realism of what we see from a cinematography perspective – found-footage movies must answer “Who’s holding the camera? Why is it on?” at all times – Malibu Horror Story doubles up on its action sequences. As Josh’s editor Jessica (Rebecca Forsythe) shows him the documentary footage she’s spliced together along with newly recovered clips, the film flips perspective to Jake Torrance (Tommy Cramer) and his party-hardy bros as they embark on the last hike of their lives. Josh and his crew are already deep in the cave, equipment rigs everywhere, discovering what they’ve probably just provoked with spiritual welcoming devices – it’s a nifty setup primed for extensive thrills.
Malibu Horror Story Gallery
A Blend of Myth and Terror
A decent variety of elements are at play: It’s a found-footage Descent set on Native American burial grounds. Mentions of shamans and supernatural protectors unearth a territorial invasion that dates back to America’s earliest pioneering, unleashing far more than just a grinny demon. Skinwalkers, spectral blurs in video footage, and sacrificial gore shots are the hallmarks of a hunter who shows no mercy to anyone in the cave. Slone then adds resourceful touches like infrared vision to see through pitch darkness or fantastical visual effects on top of organ-removing deaths. Malibu Horror Story properly embellishes its mythological roots and reaches for your heart Indiana Jones-style, making for plenty of killer imagery.
Lacking Claustrophobic Atmosphere
However, Slone struggles to keep the atmosphere feeling claustrophobic and dreadful for stretches. Found-footage movies like As Above, So Below or The Pyramid box us and characters in confined spaces, while Malibu Horror Story fails to sell the walled-in thrills of its enclosed, rocky labyrinth. Moments that should send us shrieking land with minimal hoots, especially considering how the contortionist skills of monster actor “Twisty” Troy James. Slone’s backdrop of a cavern marked by untranslatable symbols might be eerily dank and dark, but there’s an airlessness and visual flatness to some of the key scares. Hyper-aggressive scenes of snarling demons pouncing on foolish filmmakers doesn’t translate into the terror it should; the execution of Slone’s splendid ideas is lacking.
Sticklers for found-footage clichés might also be frustrated by characters whose choices keep steering the story toward inevitable doom. Jake’s slow reveal of the curse upon the Torrance family and the land they camp on is the tip of the iceberg. Josh’s engineer Matt (Robert Bailey Jr.) sprints toward imminent peril without any hesitation like he wants to die, and there’s a scene where we see a fork in cave tunnels that leads one character to suggest splitting up. Perhaps you’ll be able to forgive the “Horror 101” of it all because it leads to some gnarly glimpses of woodland terror.
Two Movies in One
What unravels is two movies: the true-crime investigation and the straightforward demonic confrontation. Slone makes a successful argument for including both in Malibu Horror Story, but struggles more with Josh’s shoot than with Jake’s boy gang getting torn to shreds. All the hiking footage feels authentically chaotic, whereas later cave explorations switch to a cleaner, more fly-on-the-wall approach. The third act gives us in-focus creature shots, but not always for the better. Malibu Horror Story brings more thunder when Team Josh watches Team Jake’s footage, creating an imbalance that drags the experience down.