They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and in Polaroid most of those words are screams of terror. Well, at least for the characters in this tries-to-be-high concept horror. For the rest of us watching this sodden fright-by-numbers affair, the words of choice are “Urgh”, “Come on” and “Why would you do that? This is so dumb!”.
As the title implies, it’s an old instant-camera that acts as the centre of this tale, specifically an antique Polaroid SX-70 that “they don’t even make any more”. That’s according to protagonist Bird Fitcher (Kathryn Prescott), a teen loner/amateur photographer with a traumatic past who stumbles upon the old camera at the antique store she works at when she’s not busy trying her best to be the proverbial wallflower at high school.
Bird’s excitement about finding the old Polaroid quickly turns to confusion and then horror though. A mysterious dark shadow looms in the photograph of anybody she takes a photo of, and – more alarmingly – all the subjects of her pics are turning up gruesomely killed, seemingly at the hands of whatever supernatural entity is haunting her snaps. And as Bird’s latest pic was a group shot containing both her high school crush and only best friend, it’s a race against time to uncover the sinister secrets of the camera before she loses everybody she cares about.
Originally starting its life in 2015 as a 15-minute short film from Lars Krevberg before being adapted to the big screen by the Norwegian filmmaker, Polaroid feels every bit like a small idea stretched out to cover too much surface area even with only a feature-length-ish 80-minute running time. While Krevberg actually starts things pretty strongly horror-wise with a chilling cold open detailing what happened to the previous owner of the camera, things rapidly devolve into a cacophony of laughably easy to predict jump scares. Much more than a monster, its the cliches that lurk in every shadowy corner that you have to watch out for.
And there certainly are there a lot of them here – both tropes and shadowy corners. The latter point is particularly irksome as Krevberg aims for a pensive atmosphere with dimly lit scenery, but instead just ends up with several beats in which vague silhouettes scream at and run away from an amorphous, barely distinguishable dark grey blob. The unknown is supposed to be terrifying, but here it’s just frustrating as you squint at the screen.
This movie is not very bright in more ways than one though. As Bird discovers in her investigations, the supernatural beastie stalking everybody shares some proverbial DNA with photographs (don’t ask) and so is stronger in darkness. And yet, the entire cast appears to be deathly allergic to switching on a light anywhere they go, constantly skulking around in the gloom and then somehow being surprised when the monster comes a-killing. That’s one example of those “Come on!” moments I mentioned up top, but there are several. Screenwriter Blair Butler’s script attempts to establish the rules of this horror world (some of which are actually rather intriguing, like how anything done to a photograph happens to its subject), but constantly either forgets or flat out ignores those rules.
And besides for Bird – portrayed with solid commitment by an increasingly flustered Prescott – characters are of the instantly forgettable ilk. I could not recall a single supporting character’s name the moment the credits began to roll, as they were no than walking collections of ideas you’ve already seen done better numerous times before. Some die gruesomely, some don’t, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you who is who as it all blends together.
In the end, more than Polaroid’s silly premise – which could have been fun if explored/implemented more fully – it’s that cookie-cutter approach, that overwhelming air of inferior familiarity, that dooms Polaroid to the mound of tepid horrors only good for briefly raising the heart rates of some of the PG-13 crowd it’s aimed at as they channel hop past it during a Friday night sleepover. Krevberg and Butler try to change things up with some third act twists, but these feel like nothing more than tacked on narrative fluff.
Polaroid was originally filmed back in early 2017 for a release later that year but saw itself being delayed and even shelved indefinitely several times as it got caught up in the bankruptcy of The Weinstein Company. After much changing of hands (and it’s kind of easy to see why nobody was too enthusiastic to hold onto it) it’s finally seeing the light of day. Maybe it should have remained in a dark room for more development though?
Last Updated: September 27, 2019