Life Of Belle Review

Drawing comparisons to Paranormal Activity and Skinamarink, Life of Belle haunts SCREAMBOX on May 17. The found footage film attempts to piece together the mysterious disappearance of a young girl.

I’ll take sleight issue with that summary from Screambox, as aside from the fact that there are children involved, Life Of Belle is nothing like Skinamarink. Oh, there’s a lot of Paranormal Activity here to be sure. But none of Skinamarink. Which is good. Because while I loved Skinamarink, the last thing I desire is movies trying to ape it without getting the point.

Life Of Belle is apparently a family production. The writer-director is Shawn Robinson, and the family that makes up the cast (Mother, Father, Belle, and Link) are all surnamed Robinson. That’s either the craziest coincidence of all time, a casting director abusing their power, or the sign that someone has a pretty talented family. I’ll Occam’s Razor it and assume it’s the last option there.

This a found footage film detailing the time in a family’s life after the daughter gets a new camera so she can start a YouTube channel right before her father goes away on a business trip. With dad out of town, the mother of the household decides to quit taking her medication for her mental health condition. She has terrible dreams and talks to people who aren’t there, but that’s just the start. Soon, she is declaring all of the food in the house poison and refusing to let the kids eat, among other abusive patterns.

And so we get the story of Belle and Link trying to come to terms with their mother’s frightening behaviors while they are also just… trying to be kids. We see them at play and just living their lives while everything falls apart around them. It vaguely reminded me of a more horror-centric iteration of another film I just watched recently, The Florida Project.

TWO UPS AND TWO DOWNS

+Holy shit, is this movie in tense and engaging in parts. The story is incredibly interesting, as Belle and Link’s mother descends further into madness after she stops taking her medication. What starts as screaming in the middle of the night turns into abuse, as she yells at the kids, tortures them with “games”, throws out all of the food in the house, and just generally becomes an uncomfortable nightmare to watch.

You really, really end up feeling for Belle and Link because these are the real life circumstances some kids with mentally unwell parents deal with. For some, it’s not this bad. But for others, it’s much worse. There were moments where I wanted to reach into my laptop screen and just hug and protect these kids.

So yeah, this is a very effective movie for emotional manipulation. And it can really be hard to watch how the mother treats her kids as the film progresses.

+Life Of Belle is barely seventy minutes long, and it really did not need to be any longer than that, So credit to the writer and director Shawn Robinson for knowing how much movie he had to work with and not stretching it out another twenty minutes just to get to an hour and a half. There are a lot of good one hour movies I’ve seen get painfully stretched out to ninety minutes, and it was pleasant to see that not happen here. It takes a solid, on-the-rise talent to know not to do that.

-The beginning of the movie gives away the ending, as it opens with a cop responding to the scene of the home and finding the bodies of the family members inside. Boy, I could have done without that as I watched this. I didn’t need to know the tragedy of the ending, and I wish I could have just watched it not knowing how it was going to go for almost everyone involved.

I get WHY found footage movies can get set up like that, and this one in particular presents as a “we are releasing this footage to help us find Belle”, but for me, I would have just kicked off the film with Belle’s camera point of view and not spoiled the ending.

-THIS DOWN IS A MASSIVE SPOILER FOR THE END OF LIFE OF BELLE, SO SKIP STRAIGHT TO THE OVERALL SECTION IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING! Okay? Here we go: After about sixty-eight minutes of a gripping tale of a mother being too unwell to care for her kids because she has a severe condition like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, we get to the last few minutes just to find out whoops! There is something malevolent and supernatural going on after all! And, to me, that was a massive cop-out.

I was so engaged in this story and if the dad would get home in time to save the kids from their spiraling mother. I cared about what was going on. It was taut, emotional stuff! And for it all to be “nope, here are som evil ghosts”… that was an enormous letdown. I don’t know if that felt like it undercut the mental health aspect of the rest of the movie, or if I just thought it was too generic and made this Paranormal Activity clone feel a bit too on-the-nose. But I sat watching this movie and genuinely thinking “I sure hope the potential for something supernatural is a red herring, and this flick doesn’t blow it at the end”.

But it did.

OVERALL

In true “it’s the journey, not the destination” fashion, I won’t hold the ending to Life Of Belle TOO hard against it, because the movie up to that point really was a well-done ride of an emotional roller coaster. The Robinson family all do a pretty good job in their roles, even if the dialogue isn’t always the height of inspired. I would definitely recommend this, but boy… I wish the ending wasn’t what it was.

★★★ and a half out of 5

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