Studio: Paramount Players
Director: Malik Vitthal
Writer: Richmond Riedel, Nicholas McCarthy
Producer: Matt Kaplan
Stars: Mary J. Blige, Nat Wolff, David Zayas, David Warshofsky, Demetrius Grosse, Anika Noni Rose, Lance Nichols, Lara Grice
A problematic police officer must solve a supernatural murder mystery where crime scene footage reveals clues only to her.
I passed right by all mentions of ¡°Body Cam¡± whenever they entered my inbox or popped up while browsing film news online. Quick skims of the synopsis and unimpressed glances at average artwork made the movie look like an ordinary cop drama that wouldn¡¯t get very far down my particular alley.
Then I discovered Nicholas McCarthy was one of two writers credited with the screenplay. (Richmond Riedel, solely credited as coming up with the story, is the other.) McCarthy has consistently been one of indie horror¡¯s experts at producing unnerving paranormal thrills, having helmed ¡°The Pact¡± (review here), ¡°At the Devil¡¯s Door¡± (review here), and ¡°The Prodigy¡± (review here). Although Malik Vitthal directs ¡°Body Cam,¡± I figured McCarthy¡¯s influence would drape the script in the style of dark eeriness typically associated with his name.
My assumption took a hard hit on this one. McCarthy either poorly punted the ball or, giving him the benefit of the doubt, saw his creepy contributions submerged under the dominant dullness Riedel¡¯s work may be responsible for. Because ¡°Body Cam¡± isn¡¯t just the routine police procedural I feared it would be. It¡¯s a routine supernatural spookshow too.
¡°Body Cam¡± takes place during a tense time. A cop¡¯s acquittal in a racially-charged controversy has communities on the edge of rioting across the country. The plot parallels a common climate in America by following a storyline in this setting, but don¡¯t expect enlightenment on the subject to go with it. Although it motivates the basic setup, this brown/white/blue divide recedes largely into irrelevance following the first few minutes, making way for a sleepy vengeful ghost yarn that would unravel the same way under any other circumstance. The multicultural makeup of characters involved in the underlying conspiracy suggests filmmakers got cold feet about committing to any commentary one way or the other, opting for the safety of feckless frights instead.
Mary J. Blige plays police officer Renee Lomito-Smith. Exactly two things characterize Renee. Her young son accidentally drowned, and his death has haunted Renee ever since. She¡¯s also returning to the force after serving a suspension for punching a civilian. This weirdly makes Renee a problematic outsider while concurrently being ¡°one of us¡± to sympathetic colleagues who rib her with the usual police brotherhood banter, whichever the film needs her to be in a given moment.
Both of these bits are mere story devices muddled with bare minimum emotional weight. Aside from a needless nightmare with the little boy¡¯s ghost, losing her son only connects Renee thematically to Taneesha, another grieving mother at the center of the movie¡¯s mystery. Renee has a husband too. You¡¯re likely to forget his inclusion in two sounding board scenes however as Renee could easily be a single woman and it wouldn¡¯t make the slightest difference. These are the kinds of cursory inclusions a neophyte learns to create on the first day of Introductory Screenwriting.
But someone skipped day two on establishing useful relationships between characters. For her first shift back, veteran Renee gets paired with a rookie of course. She doesn¡¯t mentor him much. He only goes through expected ¡°I can¡¯t deal with this¡± bouts of barfing before serving his ultimate purpose of providing exposition to link the third act to the first. Don¡¯t feel bad if you don¡¯t get attached to him. Renee doesn¡¯t.
Renee and the rookie are on the case of a fellow cop murdered after pulling over a strange woman. Renee can¡¯t believe her eyes when dashcam footage from the slain officer¡¯s cruiser shows an invisible entity pulling the cop into darkness. Renee¡¯s supervisor can¡¯t believe it either, because the officer¡¯s cameras were fried and no such footage exists.
This pattern continues after another attack at a convenience store. Renee sees surveillance footage of this entity killing another cop only to later learn the security system wasn¡¯t even recording. Why is Renee the only person capable of seeing these deaths? What¡¯s really going on?
The first question never receives a fulfilling answer beyond the grieving mother thing mentioned earlier. The second question is easy to figure out long before Renee comes to the same conclusion. If somehow you don¡¯t guess a connection between police corruption and a cover-up, ¡°Body Cam¡± gives it all away mid-movie with a conspicuous cutaway to a particular person, instantly erasing any suspense that might have remained in the meager mystery.
Blige exhibits next to no personality as an entirely unconvincing police officer. Her performance primarily involves looking perpetually flummoxed by putting two vertical lines in between her eyebrows.
Excessively circuitous investigation sequences consist of just walking around waving flashlights everywhere. You could watch these scenes at 2x speed, still think everyone was moving too slowly, and never notice anything amiss unless someone spoke.
Ghost FX look like they were made in a glitchy alpha of After Effects. They might be passable in homemade horror, but are criminally cheap for a project backed with Paramount money.
Predictability ends up not even being ¡°Body Cam¡¯s¡± biggest undoing. It¡¯s the visible boredom infecting everything from acting to execution that flattens the film into an indistinctly uninteresting thriller.
Review Score: 40