Movie Review: The Upper Footage (aka Upper)

The Upper Footage poster

@HellingsOnFilm takes a look at the 1%ers in The Upper Footage…

The Upper Footage is the first film experience of its kind. The film is an edited version of 393 minutes of recovered footage documenting a young girl’s tragic overdose death and subsequent cover up by a group of affluent socialites. What started as a blackmail plot played out over YouTube, became Hollywood’s biggest drug scandal, turned into a heavily controversial film property that was rumoured to be held by some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Now, after playing itself out in the media for 3 years it is finally making its way to the public


Somebody recently described the internet as “a place to pick fights with strangers”, where haters and trolls live in the darkness spitting poison at innocents in a pathetic attempt to claim some voice of their own and make their pitiful lives have some kind of meaning. This isn’t even the dark web, this is the readily accessible world of social media in a self obsessed society, a world in which the narcissist’s karaoke that is Twitter has become an unchecked attack weapon of rape and death threats. The world of Schadenfreude is now writ large. ‘Haters gonna hate. Whatever. Just saying. LOL’. If so, the Internet is revealing exactly how much hate there is online and it’s an ugly sight to behold. And the biggest legal online resource for illegally placed clips? YouTube. Go figure.

Horror films have finally caught up with the cruelty of the Internet and social media, such as the recent Unfriended (which The Upper Footage writer/director Justin Cole recently claimed was more than influenced by his own film – for legal reasons, check out Cole’s version of events on his Facebook page and decide for yourself).

The Upper Footage (shot in 2013) wants to be part of the Internet related films that are out there, but this seems more of a marketing tool or afterthought than a content reality. The film was initially released in a limited run and supposedly met with some controversy as the footage was said to be real (subsequently denied by Cole, and something that often gets said by producers to boost interest in a film like this). The Upper Footage has now finally received a wider release via Vimeo VOD.

When found footage, box office hit The Blair Witch Project was released with a clever internet campaign, few (if any) connected with the film paid homage to Ruggero Deodato’s superb and still deeply disturbing 1980 Cannibal Holocaust, the found footage film to trump all others. Lately, there seems to have been nothing but found footage attempts (all, of course, ‘based on a true story’), with very mixed results.

The Upper Footage has a documentary style opening relating the background to what we’re going to see: the story of the alleged controversy surrounding a young girl “Jackie”, who leaves a popular NYC bar in 2009 with a group of New York socialites and is never seen alive again. It’s then claimed that the story was buried due to the wealth and connections of those involved with her disappearance. A year later, a clip relating to that night is posted on YouTube (faces of the men pixelated) in an apparent blackmail attempt. Despite being quickly deleted, the clip spreads like wildfire across the Internet, the two men (one a Vlogger, the other a socialite called Blake Pennington) allegedly responsible for “Jackie’s demise” and who have been missing for almost a year.

Image from The Upper Footage

The socialite’s family, we are told in the on screen titles, pay off the blackmailer. The video and related stories then disappear. Five months after the initial clip, two more are posted online, the men in the clip again pixelated out to protect their identities, and a further blackmail attempt. When the families refuse, the blackmailer informs the ‘mainstream media’ of what he is doing. The media coverage explodes in a ‘Wikileaks’ style reveal of information, becoming “the most talked about story in Hollywood” with name actresses and singers falsely accused of being in the footage taking cocaine. Claims are even made that Quentin Tarantino wanted the footage to make a feature film, but backs out (again untrue, but great publicity and marketing by the filmmakers).

The film begins almost as a film about the film as it is shown in midnight screenings with cinema owners receiving threats via Twitter in a #StopTheUpperFootage campaign, the film marketed as “Blair Witch” for real. Legal battles allegedly stop the footage related to “Jackie’s” disappearance from the public, until now. We then are presented with “an edited version of the recovered footage”.

What follows is video footage, hand held of course, following the rich kids’ night out (realistically shot as you’d expect) revealing them to be the usual, spoilt 1%ers, checking out young women on the sidewalk, trying to get into clubs, cruising around in the limo and generally being idiots. It’s realistically put together and a glimpse into the bored worlds of out of touch people, drinking, doing drugs, looking for a good night out, getting annoyed at being unable to find cocaine (the usual First World Problems). From the start, our socialites are not people to like, but it would be too easy to hate them just because of their social status unless you have a major chip on each shoulder.

The socialites meet “Jackie”, take her back to their apartment, the party continues and the problems begin as we see the frat boy mentality of misogynists at play. The actress playing “Jackie” allegedly wasn’t happy upon seeing the footage shot – (odd, surely being topless and pretending to do coke was in the script?) – appearing only now with her face pixelated throughout the film. Strange that she didn’t sign some kind of release form prior to shooting (unless this is also a marketing ploy, who knows, maybe, probably?), but the effect is curiously fitting with the feel of the rest of the film. An overdose is then the key to the events that follow, focusing on how the socialites try to cover up rather than deal with the problem, only to create more problems as a result.

The Upper Footage may have been made too early to really be able to really use the spread of social media and the problems that we’re now seeing (Twitter is mentioned only briefly at the beginning, then the film is purely a found footage movie), the zeitgeist having erupted at a sickening speed, but the real issue is that the producers may have created a rod for their own backs in trying to create a hype to match films such as Blair Witch. This isn’t a Cannibal Holocaust with the controversy that surrounded it, nor films that were accused of being ‘snuff’ (but never were) or gore porn, it’s not even a standard horror, concentrating instead on rich kids initially trying to cover up an accidental death rather than a murder.

The Upper Footage is actually a fairly simple, effective, well made and well played film that is best viewed without the hype they’ve tried to surround it with in order to get an audience.

David Paul Hellings
Images: IMDb

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