Mockingbird is a 2014 found footage style horror film written and directed by Bryan Bertino (better known for The Strangers). The film currently holds a 4.1 on IMDb and a 21% on the tomatometer, scores that are both well deserved. Mockingbird builds you up, lets you think you’ve discovered a gem, something so rare in the found footage sub-genre, but, in the end, decides to give us one of the worst twist endings I have ever seen. In fact, it works as a big fuck you to the audience more than anything else. I WILL be spoiling this sad excuse for a twist ending, in hopes that you, the reader, won’t waste your time. So don’t read this if you like being disappointed, I guess.
The film starts strong. After some shots of a house accompanied by gloomy classical music, we see a young boy holding a video camera in a bathroom, the door of which has just been opened by what we assume is an intruder. The boy is sobbing and screaming, pleading for his life to be spared, stating he did everything the intruder said, that he never stopped recording. The boy is then shot in the head.
After this, we meet 4 people who have all had cameras dropped off at their doorsteps with one simple instruction: do not stop filming. The people are titled accordingly: Tom (Todd Stashwick) and Emmy (Audrey Marie Anderson) are “The Family”, Beth (Alexandra Lydon) is “The Woman”, and Leonard (Barak Hardley) is “The Clown”. I will be referring to the characters as their titles for the rest of my review in order to avoid any unnecessary complications. Everyone seems to think the camera is part of some sort of mysterious contest, and follow instruction.
Things soon take a dark turn when The Woman and The Family receive VHS tapes on their doorsteps. The VHS tapes contain the footage we see at the beginning of the film of the boy being murdered, accompanied by messages including: “PLAY THE GAME”, “WE ARE WATCHING”, “KEEP FILMING OR YOU WILL DIE”, and “DO NOT CALL THE POLICE”. The Clown, however, receives a clown costume and instructions for a scavenger hunt. He is first instructed to go into the woman’s restroom at a nearby hotel and act like a buffoon. Believe it or not, The Clown is pretty jazzed about this scavenger hunt, and completes the tasks with ease. Meanwhile, The Family and The Woman are being tormented by someone, or something, outside of their homes. I won’t go too far into the tricks that are played on them, because this is quite honestly the best part of the film. If you decide to watch this film, do it for this reason. We get some very strong found footage horror moments from these scenes, which is a nice treat.
The Clown is faced with the task of visiting a local roller rink, where he is instructed to take Polaroid photos with children, and drop the photos off at a phone booth. Did I mention The Family’s kids were at the roller rink? Well, they are. He does this, and The Family then receives a jack-in-the-box on their doorstep, which has a photo of The Family’s children sitting next to The Clown taped onto the top. They open the box and receive their car keys (which have been taken from them during the torment they endured), along with an address they must visit to get their children. The Family make sure to take a gun before leaving. The Woman also receives the address, along with a revolver. The Clown receives the address too, but is first instructed to pick up a cake to bring along.
So, they all arrive at the house, which is filled with red balloons. Not just decorated. It’s literally filled with red balloons. You can see nothing else. First, The Family and The Woman meet and begin arguing, The Family looking for their children and The Woman being scared and confused about the whole situation. The Clown hears the commotion from nearby and decides to investigate. The second The Family sees him, they shoot him dead. The Woman, not seeing The Clown, assumes The Family shot at her, and she shoots them both. The Family also manages to shoot The Woman. Confusing, I know, but they all die. We get to look at their bodies for a while, until someone picks the camera up and carries it upstairs, where we see several children in clown makeup (one of which being the boy whose brains we see get blown out earlier in the film) asking if it worked. Yeah.
So, somehow, a group of young kids planned this elaborate prank? Was it a prank? Why the hell did they do this? I’ve had some twist endings make me mad before, but never ruin the entire film like this managed to do. I did a little research in the hopes that I would find an explanation for this ridiculous plot twist, but all I found was someone describing the film as a “trite approach to gender”. Mockingbird could have been a great little film if the credits had just rolled when everyone died, and we never got an explanation, because no explanation would’ve been better than the one we get. If you do decide to watch this, just turn the movie off after everyone dies, and pretend you don’t know what you’ve read here. The acting is decent, and the horror is, while trope-ridden, fairly strong. I just can’t get past that damned ending. Mockingbird is available for streaming on Netflix, and if you must buy it, you can get it on DVD from Universal Studios.
I give Mockingbird a 4/10
Check out Bertino’s better film, The Strangers, instead!
Watch a trailer for Mockingbird here.