[Review] DO NOT WATCH [Unnamed Footage Festival]: Found Footage Shocker Dares You to View It 

Those wary of found-footage horror movies because so many of them follow the formula of having characters wander around the woods or in an abandoned building, filming with shaky cameras and having nothing happening until the final few minutes, take heart. Director Justin Janowitz’s Do Not Watch (2023) eschews those trappings and builds a web of mystery from its onset, resulting in a unique, multilayered take on the subgenre.

A documentary director (Alix Angelis playing an unnamed character) tackles the mystery of how and why six employees at postproduction studio Illusion Post disappeared. Studio owner Abraham Lorentz (Garth Wynne-Jones) lets the director know in no uncertain terms that he wants nothing to do with her, but she becomes obsessed with the case. 

The film also follows footage of Lorentz and his studio manager Ollie (Jodie Bently), a first-time editor (Ezekiel Ajeigbe) who is vlogging his experience, a sound designer (Sam Boxleitner), a sound mixer (David Ury), and other staff members (Brendan McCay, Ella Cannon, Catherine Corcoran, Michael Deni, Madison Lawlor) as they try to put the finishing touches on VHS footage from the 1980s. This footage is the work of university professor Dr. Sommerfeld (John Henry Richardson) and his students Jamie (Sara Fletcher) and Faraday (Greg Scali), who went missing after they followed notes from Sommerfield’s also missing colleague Heinrich Calder to discover a hidden bunker in the woods. The film cans from the trio and the footage contained therein implored others not to watch, but Lorentz senses big money and insists that his staff members keep working on the footage — even as their descents into madness and eerie disappearances continue to occur.

Janowitz, working from a screenplay by Ryan Toyama, juggles the different timelines and multiple disappearances well. The studio, documentary camerawork, and 1980s footage allow for multiple cameras and character points of view, avoiding the questions “Where did that camera angle come from?” and “Why are they still filming?” that plague several found footage movies. 

The members of the sizable cast all turn in fine performances, with standouts that include Angelis as the journalist consumed with solving the mysteries behind the disappearances, Ajeigbe as a young man determined not to give up on his first editing gig, even as events get increasingly dangerous around him, and Boxleitner as a studio employee so disturbed by what he heard on the VHS tapes that he has become a fractured shell of himself. The characters are well written and performed, and it is easy to get invested in the outcomes of the protagonists.

The events of Do Not Watch are spliced together from the three different timelines by an enigmatic editor who (or perhaps which?) has inserted multiple warnings such as the titular one, and some subliminal messages and others rapidly appearing on screen with barely enough time to read. Naturally the big question that arises for viewers is whether the film can deliver something so disturbing that it makes us wish we had heeded the warning of the title. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that if descents into madness and despair that recall Lovecraft and Poe interest you, you’ll want to check out Do Not Watch. This technically sound offering is one of the better found-footage fear-fare features in recent memory.

3.8 out of 5 stars (3.8 / 5)

Do Not Watch screens as part of the Unnamed Footage Festival, which runs March 26–31 in San Francisco. For more information, visit https://www.unnamedfootagefestival.com/.

Joseph Perry
Joseph Perry fell in love with horror films as a preschooler when he first saw the Gill-Man swim across the TV screen in "The Creature from The Black Lagoon" and Mothra battle Godzilla in "Godzilla Vs. The Thing.” His education in fright fare continued with TV series such as "The Twilight Zone" and "Outer Limits," along with legendary northern California horror host Bob Wilkins’ "Creature Features." His love for silver age and golden age comic books, including horror titles from Gold Key, Dell, and Marvel started around age 5.

He is a contributing writer for the "Phantom of the Movies VideoScope" and “Drive-In Asylum” print magazines and the websites Horror Fuel, Diabolique Magazine, The Scariest Things, B&S About Movies, and When It Was Cool. He is a co-host of the "Uphill Both Ways" pop culture nostalgia podcast and also writes for its website. Joseph occasionally proudly co-writes articles with his son Cohen Perry, who is a film critic in his own right.

A former northern Californian and Oregonian, Joseph has been teaching, writing, and living in South Korea since 2008.