LandLocked kicks off with a video recording of a father telling his son that one week after he passes the house will be torn down and everything thrown out. He warns that if there is anything worth keeping it better be out by then. When Mason heeds the call and comes home he finds an old handheld VHS camera, and while playing with it in the woods is startled as he watches his childhood self swing into view and drop into the river behind the house. Thus, he discovers that the camera allows him to see back in time. He begins recording as many moments from his childhood as possible before the home is torn down, but as the movie goes on we see the dangers of living in the past.
The film is definitely low budget, but that doesn’t stop it from being a solid horror film. Director/writer/actor Paul Owens does an incredible job using the cinematography in his storytelling, juxtaposing the vintage footage with present day scenes as Mason moves through the very same spaces. Owens populates the film with his real life brothers and father, and the family videos we see throughout the film are those from his actual childhood. This tactic evokes something emotional, akin to the film Boyhood (2014), where the viewer is let into a private life and gets to see the actors actually grow up. In this case it is much more intimate than the pivotal 2014 film because the vintage scenes are not scripted, and Owens is allowing us into his private life in a remarkable way.
One can only imagine that the house used for the present day shots is also Owens’ actual family home, as the moments Mason is looking through the camera and those when he puts it down are seamless in their portrayal of the space. For example, Mason watches through the camera lens as he and his brothers play in an above ground pool, but when he stops filming we see the pool is no longer there. There is a fragile and endearing tone to the story, where nostalgia and loss intertwine and the desire to see it all as it happened is overpowering, even to the point of putting yourself in harm’s way. It is completely understandable that Mason would rush to record every moment possible before the house gets torn down.
However, something ominous is lurking, and as the other two brothers appear we get hints that something is off. Owens is a master visual storyteller, choosing to show us as opposed to tell us, as LandLocked is overall a quiet film. Mason spends most of the time in the film alone in the house and the only audio is often children’s voices from an old VHS, droning cicadas, and a dark ambient soundtrack. The combination manages to be sweet and discomforting at the same time, but doesn’t feel empty or lacking. At times scenes seem to drag on a bit long, but when the movie has ended it leaves the impression of lingering in a space you don’t want to leave. With a runtime of only 1 hour and 14 minutes, if you cut much more it would feel rushed and closer to a short film than a feature length.
Towards the end there is a jump in the narrative that lands the story more solidly in the horror genre, instead of just a thriller, and though it is hinted at in the beginning through visual cues, it still feels jarring. This pivot is creepy though, and utilizes low budget effects well. As we get towards the end of the story the film ventures more into the surreal, with time beginning to break down and subtle but bizarre occurrences taking place. The ending is incredibly satisfying, and hits right in the feels, examining the dangers of lingering in the past.
Budget isn’t everything when it comes to making a successful horror film, and Paul Owens proves this. It will be interesting to see as his career develops if he can repeat what was achieved in this film, because the trick of using family videos would be redundant. However, if LandLocked is any indication of his skill in storytelling and ingenuity with a camera then we should all hope he continues.
We Watched Landlocked as Part of the 2021 Nighstream Line-up