Cursed objects have been a staple of horror films for decades — one can almost consider it to be one of the bigger subgenres with such films as The Ring, Sinister, and Annabelle sprouting multiple sequels and spin-offs — but with his film Polaroid, director Lars Klevberg doesn’t so much as explore that subgenre as he does mine it for all its worth so that he can plug and play whatever he finds into his own movie. If you are seeking a bland and unoriginal horror film, look no further than Polaroid, as this film checks off clichés and stolen ideas faster than you can count, and with a plot basically lifted from an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” it should surprise no one that this film sat in development hell since 2017.
As with many horror films, this one starts off with a prologue — when or where this prologue takes place is never made clear nor ever addressed again — and we are introduced to Sarah (Madelaine Petsch) and her friend Linda (Erika Prevost), a couple of teenage girls who we see going through a box of possessions belonging to Sarah’s late mother. In this box of “memories” they discover an old Polaroid camera. Linda takes a picture of Sarah to test it out, ’cause why not, but later that night, Sarah notices the picture now has a shadowy figure in the background. Upon hearing strange noises in the attic and after a bouncing ping-pong ball startles her — a clear lift of the bouncing rubber ball from The Changeling — she decides to investigate, ’cause why not, and then she is brutally killed by a mysterious entity. This scene is utterly ridiculous, not because we have a teenage girl exploring a dark attic alone after hearing a creepy noise — which is something that can be found in Screenwriting for Horror 101 — the problem here is that if this entire prologue had been cut from the film, it would have had no impact on the story whatsoever.
We then jump to the “Present Day” where we are introduced to the film’s protagonist, shy high school student Bird (Kathryn Prescott) whose outcast status seems to stem from her insistence on wearing scarves all the time — people call her “Scarf Girl” as if that could be a thing — and she works at a local antique store where her co-worker, and unbeknownst admirer, Tyler (Davi Santos) gives her an old Polaroid camera that he picked up at a garage sale. At home, Bird notices an odd smudge-like figure on the photo taken of Tyler, which will, of course, lead to Tyler being brutally murdered by the mysterious figure from the prologue. While all that is going on, Bird is dragged to a costume party by her best friend Kasey (Samantha Logan), where for some reason Bird will take random pictures of a few of the partygoers with the Polaroid — don’t ask me why she’d bring an antique camera to a party full of drunken idiots — but it’s here that we are introduced to the rest of the film’s cast of victims.
We meet Mina (Priscilla Quintana), Mina’s boyfriend Devin (Keenan Tracey), party girl and hostess Avery (Katie Stevens), and Bird’s high school crush Connor Bell (Tyler Young), but don’t bother trying to place names to faces as these characters have fewer dimensions than the Polaroid pics themselves and are instantly as forgettable. When poor Tyler is found murdered, and Avery is killed later that night when the entity snaps her neck, Bird starts to suspect that the shadowy figure appearing in those Polaroid pics is somehow linked to their deaths, and that the entity seems to disappear from the photos after it has made the kill, then appearing to move to the photo of its next intended target. Now, it may seem that Bird jumps to this supernatural conclusions rather quickly here — even Sam and Dean Winchester wouldn’t have drawn those conclusions that fast — but as we only have ninety minutes, and a bunch of people to kill, there’s no sense wasting time.
What follows is your standard supernatural mystery with our protagonists visiting dusty libraries to uncover the history behind the killer camera — learning that it belonged to a serial killer who preyed on a group of teens and was shot dead by the police — and they also discover that trying to destroy the photos is not a good idea. When a very anxious Devin tries to burn the group photo he’s in, there is a less than desirable side-effect, for as the photo of Mina’s hand burns, so does Mina’s actual hand, with the fire only being extinguished when Bird stamps out the flames on the burning pic, which then mysteriously repairs itself. With the body count rising, Bird and Connor attempt to convince Sheriff Pembroke (Mitch Pileggi) of what is going on, but unsurprisingly he doesn’t quite buy into the whole “A serial killer’s camera is murdering our friends,” and he sends them on their way.
The script tries to throw in some twists and turns as to why the vengeful spirit is murdering people — we meet the wife of the killer and she is super helpful — but given the fact that the entity wants vengeance on the particular people responsible for its death, I’m not sure what’s the point of all the collateral damage among the teen population. It seems the entity’s whole plan revolves around its intended target eventually coming into possession of the camera, and then taking a picture of themselves, which seems rather unlikely. The episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? “The Tale of the Curious Camera” — which also had a camera whose photos predicted doom — made more sense than anything we find in Polaroid, and that was a kid’s show.
• The entity is revealed to have a weakness to heat and light, so we get moments that appear lifted right out of David F. Sandberg’s horror film Lights Out.
• We get one of those “movie hospitals” that seem to be staffed by only two or three people.
• The entity’s modus operandi has a strange inconsistency to it; the ghost is either breaking necks or forming a blade out of its arm to stab its victim, yet it then for unknown reasons makes some of them look like accidents or suicide, while others are obvious murders. What would be the point of making it look like a suicide? Is it because the filmmakers of Polaroid are fans of Nightmare on Elm Street?
• We constantly get the sound of the Polaroid camera charging its flash, but that particular make and model doesn’t even have a flash. What the fuck, people?
• Bird and Connor find newspaper articles about the kidnapping and torturing of four students and the killing of three of them, and the paper includes actual photos of the teens in bondage, which would have gotten the newspaper editor quickly sued because the victims were all minors.
Director Lars Klevberg and writer Blair Butler — who was also responsible for the screenplay to the derisible horror film Hell Fest — manage to create one of the most innocuous horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time, with no scares or chills to be found, but its greatest crime is in how unoriginal the film is, constantly stealing from several different and better horror movies. Polaroid is easily one of the most forgettable horror movies ever released, failing even to be so bad its good, making this a hard film to recommend to even horror buffs. Skip this movie and watch a rerun of Supernatural instead.
Movie Rank - 4/10
Polaroid looks as if Lars Klevberg and writer Blair Butler put films The Ring, Lights Out and Sinister into a blender and hit puree, then they packaged it and hoped nobody would notice. That the film sat on a shelf for three years clearly means somebody noticed.