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Here comes my baby
A reality TV show designed to document a couple's pregnancy takes an sinister turn in DELIVERY, an intriguing blend of faux documentary and found footage horror. Gort reviews the film and Metrodome's UK DVD.
 

I don't like babies. Nasty wiggly things that wail, vomit, defecate without warning and stare at you like they have sinister powers, while their owners continue to insist they are cute. My antipathy extends to the emotional response of seemingly sensible adults towards these creatures and their imminent arrival. Oh, you're pregnant? That's wonderful! When's it due? Please tell me so I can take a holiday then and avoid an overwhelming explosion of communal simpering.

On an obscurely related topic, I also have an intense dislike for reality television. Wise people have singled it out as a key contributor to the downward slide in television standards over the past ten years or so. I'd say they have a point. Where once we had complex and rewarding dramas from the likes of Dennis Potter or Alan Bleasdale, now TV companies prefer to take a collection of horrible wankers – horrible celebrity wankers if you're really unlucky – and stick them somewhere constricting so we can watch them bitch about nothing and get on each other's tits. That, we are assured, is entertainment. So imagine my response to the very idea of a reality show in which a cheery American couple allow a TV crew to document the progress of their pregnancy right up to the moment of birth. Holy crap! That sounds like a nightmare. Funnily enough, for the couple in question, that's just what it turns out to be.

Delivery, the work of first-time feature director Brian Netto, is a found footage horror film. Well, sort of. It's actually presented as a documentary in which footage recorded for the above outlined reality TV show – also called Delivery – is intercut with after-the-fact interviews to explore what happened to unfortunate mother-to-be Rachel Massey in the six months leading up to her death. Just how did she die? Ah, well that's the big question, one you'll have to wait until the end to discover the answer to. It actually might surprise you. It certainly did me. It's not an "Oh bloody hell!" type shock-surprise, but a surprise nonetheless.

Revealing at the start that Rachel later cops it does usefully prevent us from second guessing the ending, which in found footage horror almost always results in the death of the poor buggers who've been caught on camera. After a few ominous words from bearded show producer Rick, the film kicks off with what we are asked to accept would have been the first half of the first episode of Delivery. And it's really well done, perfectly capturing the flavour of this particular brand of tacky TV, an explosion of cheery vacuity complete with dizzying editing, banal upbeat music and dancing name captions. They've even added the ratings and closed caption logos you find at the front end of so many American shows. It really helps that Laurel Vail and Danny Barclay, who play expectant parents Rachel and Kyle, are actors who know how to play natural without it looking like they are performing to a script. The two of them interact believably with family and friends and talk cheerily about the upcoming event. There's even a dramatic twist when tragedy strikes and it looks as if Rachel has lost the baby. But wait, it's OK, a second set of tests reveal that everything is fine after all. Or is it?

From this point on, the film is constructed primarily from the footage shot by the camera team, CCTV cameras installed by the crew, and Flip Cams given to Rachel and Kyle to record video diaries, while others are asked to retrospectively reflect on what they think took place. As a device this repeatedly risks tripping the film up, as while Rick is good at putting us on edge with sinister portents about what will follow, the reality footage then struggles to live up to expectations these remarks have prompted. There's certainly plenty of odd stuff going on, whether it be strange noises upstairs, someone repeatedly knocking on the front door and vanishing, a dog that growls like a motherfucker when it catches sight of Rachel's belly, doors that slam suddenly and inexplicably shut, or something that electronically messes with the cameras. The problem is that with the urban ghost story now back in vogue, we've seen this sort of thing quite a few times before, and there's almost a checklist now of what you expect to see included. The good news is that while interspersing this footage with interview material does tend to give us some breathing space that a truly immersive found footage horror simply shouldn't allow, the footage itself is rather well done and intermittently creates a sense of genuine unease. A couple of times it almost mutates into dread.

A nagging sense that we pass the point at which the couple in reality would no longer allow themselves to be filmed is abated by Kyle's increasing frustration at the camera crew's presence and his decision to throw them out and withdraw from the show. His reluctant return a few weeks later is also convincingly sold, a combination of Rachel's insistence that her problems be recorded and the male-bonding friendship that's been developing backstage between him and Rick.

This faux-retrospective documentary approach to the sub-genre was previously road-tested in the 2008 Australian film Lake Mungo, a low key work that should by rights have been a lot scarier than it actually was. Delivery is certainly a more unsettling experience. Its constructed reality is convincingly presented, its supernatural elements laced with teasing ambiguity, and its scares appropriately and effectively low tech. The best of these is particularly neat and involves a cold spot in the nursery that... no, I'll let you experience that one for yourself. It's definitely worth a look for those not yet done with the found footage sub-genre. If you're pregnant, however, and are even a little bit apprehensive about what lies ahead, or if childbirth makes you go all soppy and smiley, you might just want to give this one a miss.

sound and vision

At a time when we tend to get sniffy about anything that's not in HD, there is still one sub-genre whose visual sensibility lends itself well to DVD. Want to guess which one? Oh go on. Delivery was shot primarily on HD, and I'm talking the version of HD that you'll find on those small semi-pro camcorders you'll find on the Media course at your local college. We know this because we see them in the film, and in one shot the cameraman catches himself in a mirror. Outside in the sun the image looks rather fab, as seen in cheerful exteriors in the Delivery episode itself, where the colours are lively, the contrast good, and the detail very decent for a DVD transfer. Of course much of the film takes place indoors at night, and here it's not quite as eye-catching, but is still a lot crisper than you might expect. Mixed in with this is the CCTV and Flip Cam footage, which is noticeably grubbier, with pronounced digital grain on the former and very visible artefacts on the latter when the light levels drop. Colour, as you would expect, takes a nosedive here, but it's all appropriate to the format and is well handled by the transfer. The aspect ratio is the expected 1.78:1 and the picture is anamorphically enhanced.

That the only soundtrack on offer is Dolby 2.0 stereo also feels right. Seriously, who would bother to mix a reality TV show in 5.1 surround? There is a music score, usually a no-no for found footage but not out of place in a faux documentary supposedly assembled by a reality TV producer. The track is very clean (save for the manufactured interference) and the dynamic range impressive. If you re-route your bass through the sub-woofer you get some serious sinister rumbles here.

extra features

Not a thing. It's Metrodome! Unless, of course, you count the trailers for other Metrodome releases that precede the feature, which I don't.

summary

Just as the last rites were being read over the found footage horror sub-genre, a sprinkling of new titles have popped up to suggest that reports of its death may have been premature. It may be a little risky to suggest the format may be experiencing a creative second wind, but with Bobcat Goldthwait's Willow Creek also due on UK DVD later this month, we can but hope. Delivery does recycle a number of well worn tricks, but it's a well handled and surprisingly involving new take on old ideas that does manage to intermittently get under your skin. Metrodome's disc sports a very decent transfer, but bugger all else. The good thing is that you can pick it up quite cheaply if you shop around.

One thing I will note. Metrodome has had a habit of changing the titles for the UK release of some of their lesser know acquisitions in past couple of years. This time they’ve done the opposite and gone with the nicely understated original title rather than the crass retitle of Delivery: The Beast Within, which lurks on the final credits of this very transfer. Full marks for that.

Delivery
aka Delivery: The Beast Within

USA 2013
84 mins
directed by
Brian Netto
produced by
Adam Schindler
written by
Brian Netto
Adam Schindler
cinematography
Andy Bates
music
Daniel Cossu
starring
Laurel Vail
Danny Barclay
Rob Cobuzio
Peter McGlynn
Mario Z.

disc details
region 2
video
1.78:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
languages
English
subtitles
none
extras
none
distributor
Metrodome
release date
12 May 2014
review posted
7 May 2014

See all of Gort's reviews