I had such a hard time finding this movie last night I almost gave up. I could only find it on Comcast Xfinity when I searched a specific way and when I did, there was no option to rent it in HD. So I ended up purchasing my first rental on YouTube. I paid a dollar extra for HD and the highest quality was 480p. Whatever. At this point I was happy enough to be watching the damn thing.
Mockingbird has a shocking opener followed by a not so shocking rest of the movie. The story follows three separate parties: the family, the woman. and the clown. They each receive a mysterious box at their front door with a un-shut-offable camera in it, already rolling. They are all happy that they won a contest. Instructions keep being delivered to their house anonymously to keep filming, etc. Soon, the messages get more threatening and the contestants start to lose their high spirits. Finally, a videotape is dropped off on their porches, showing that the people pulling the strings of this “contest” are not messing around.
This film is getting burned alive by reviewers everywhere, but I wouldn’t quite hold it over the fire. Sure, there are gimmicks used throughout that are clearly borrowed from other found-footage films. A large bulk of the middle scenes don’t push the plot further. The clown’s antics seem to have been unnecessary and the last thirty seconds could be considered to be an unfulfilling payoff or a cop-out, but let’s rewind this VHS for a closer look.
(Spoilerbirds are aloof!)
Let me break down the things I liked about Mockingbird, starting with the first-person view aspect. There were plenty of times I was certain the camera was placed in a way where the viewer could see something in the background that the character couldn’t. I kept waiting for this cheesy tactic to be employed, but it only happened once out of the many times it was set up like this. I found the tense atmosphere of anticipation made my skin crawl more than seeing a spooky shadow wash across the screen.
Another thing that kept me on edge was the sounds the “watchers” used to torment the contestants. I’m not talking about jumpscares here. The stalkers used the creepiest artificial laughs (sounded like a toy clown). They used prerecorded and masked voices to communicate through the answering machines and over what sounded like bellowing megaphones. They slammed and battered the windows and the sides of the house. All of this combined created a terrifying experience I’m glad I wasn’t the target of.
Even though it sounded like the door was going to bust open at any moment, almost no direct contact is made by the tormentors. They could enter the house and get to the victims easily, but they would rather poke at them in their proverbial cage instead and I find this very unsettling. In fact, the use of mannequins, note cards, and the cackling of a toy clown invoked elements of The Joker. I’ve never viewed him as a scary villain, but if this was the way he was portrayed, I would put him in that category.
The challenges the clown is coerced into doing are different from the ones given to the other parties. He has a longer list and is pretty oblivious to the sinister scheming of the watchers. He is the only one to think he is winning a contest all the way through. Some of the things he is told to do should have set off red flags. At one point he has to go to a skating rink and take Polaroids with random kids. Keep in mind he is trekking through the town performing bizarre actions in a full-blown clown suit, face paint and all! If I saw his creepy ass I would run the other way!
The ending is what most internet critics have been putting down. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t the worst. People have been raging about how there is no closure but that’s not really the case. The finale leaves a little up to the viewer, but it shows the culprits are the kids from the videotapes being passed around. I think most critics are seeing this as the kids being murderous pranksters, that orchestrating this whole night of hell for four people across town would be impossible for the runts to pull off, and I agree. This is why the Mockingbird is cut off after the reveal. It implies there is something bigger going on here. The videotape shows the kids being murdered by someone off-screen. I think showing them at the end means that they are the kid’s souls trapped somewhere between reality and afterlife. The only way they can move on is if they keep the horrific game show tapes going, kind of like duplicating the tape in The Ring. When you add the supernatural aspect to the mix it makes justifying everything else that happened earlier a bit easier.
This is of course all speculation and is only my take on the ending. If you want to try to decipher what really happened for yourself, I suggest giving Mockingbird a rental. Very atmospheric and chilling sound effects, but the pulp-less plot, predictable latter end of the film and the characters’ lack of common sense drag it down into mediocrity.
3 cackling clowns out of 5