As more and more of life is recorded, the gap between what those in power say is happening and evidence on the ground to the contrary is ever-widening. Such material is ripe for a classic horror tale, where eyes, ears, and collective comment are all at odds.
Body Cam, starring Mary J. Blige and Nat Wolff, seeks to tell a story where the past haunts more than just the official records.
Frequently a twist by design can be a compelling way to dig into social issues. Two Distant Strangers used a time loop device to dig into how inherent prejudice can escalate even the most minor of infractions, if one existed at all.
Body Cam goes into the classic horror approach: there has been a wrong here, and ghostly horribleness is gonna go down until the truth is revealed.
When your story is fairly normal, you need great characters and/or performances in order to pop. Blige plays Renee, a cop returning to duty after the recent death of her son and her subsequent suspension for physically unloading her frustrations onto an aggressive member of the public.
Paired with rookie Danny (Wolff) whilst the force is on edge due to public backlash over a recent shooting, she discovers disturbing dashcam footage showing the mysterious yet violent death of a colleague.
Unfortunately for Renee, the footage she saw is even more mysteriously wiped shortly after, leaving her increasingly friendless as she tries to track down the murder.
For ‘body cam’ here you can read in ‘found footage’ for the sub-genre of horror that Body Cam resides in, albeit done so intermittently. CCTV, dash cams, and smartphones glitch and distort as inexplicably violent force is used against more and more police officers.
Body Cam attempts to dance between social commentary and horror but fails to connect the dots. All good horror is a commentary on something or other, but Body Cam uses its material as mere dressing for the spooky plot to drape itself in, rather than fit out a full body armour wardrobe.
Arbitrary scenes such as a street of residents hurling distrustful abuse at Renee and Danny as they check on a lone child is summarily dropped immediately thereafter. If Body Cam has a wider point to make about policing and public relations, it does so only when there are gaps to fill.
There are flashes of decently disturbing material within Body Cam, with a blood splattered, teeth clattering shoot out in a convenience store calling up memories of Ring and its terrified victims.
Yet tiptoeing around a dilapidated house has the opposite effect, with ghostly shimmers and sound cue bangs deployed with predictable patter. Fear isn’t the effective ingredient here. It’s explosively sudden splatter.
Is Body Cam Worth Watching?
Body Cam is seriously hampered by a lack of characters to give two hoots about. Renee’s ‘dead child’ background is occasionally dangled in front of the camera as a reason for her determination to uncover truth, but neither Blige nor the script can elicit any emotion out of this.
Wolff has virtually no character to speak of, simply tagging along and complaining until the script decides to plonk him into vital points. No-one else gets enough screen time to register, which fundamentally weakens the lacklustre third act.
It’s hard to care about those involved in nasty events if we can’t even remember who they are.
Body Cam fails to get you fired up when no one in front of the camera can manage to do so themselves. It has its occasional moments although these are too infrequent for horror fans, and there isn’t enough heart to draw in those after more than just a bit of claret of an evening.
Words by Mike Record