While working on a research project, a group of high school students discover dark secrets behind a grisly set of murders in the town’s past. As the teens uncover details of the fateful account, they get caught deeper in an intricate web of paranormal happenings and pandemonium. The town’s violent past is catching up to the students. They will have to outsmart the malevolent forces at work if they intend to stand a chance against the demonic camera lenses in this bizarre horror thriller.
Written and directed by Michael A. Nickles, Playback is, overall, a disappointment. It’s well below average. Nothing about the film stands out. As a viewer, it’s quite difficult to figure out where the sizeable budget was actually allocated (an estimated $7.5 million). No aspect of the film stands out as well-funded or keenly-executed. With the exception of a relatively brief appearance from Christian Slater, Playback doesn’t have a well-known cast, the effects were far from mind-blowing, and the finished product didn’t have a polished look to it.
The film spends no time on character development. We know next to nothing about any of the characters’ back story, so it’s impossible to warm up to any of them. I had no desire to cheer for or against any of the cast, as I knew almost nothing about any of them. The acting is bearable but not great. The performances were unconvincing. They felt stale and uninspired. Nickles’ “paint by numbers” script didn’t give the cast a lot to work with, but I was left with the impression that he didn’t provide a great deal of stimulation from the director’s chair, either.
The film’s pacing was problematic for me. Playback starts out with a bang, and then proceeds to follow it up with a thud. It’s nearly an hour in to the movie before it picks back up to the pace of the opening sequence. The plot is threadbare, at best. It’s been done before, and it’s been done better. Playback reminds me a lot of similar titles, which also missed the mark, such as Shutter and White Noise. Playback also bears plenty of striking similarities to the superior Ringu/The Ring. It has a couple of plot twists that are not entirely predictable, but that isn’t enough for the viewer to maintain the patience needed to get through to the end of the film. The ending wasn’t satisfying in the least. It left too many loose ends and too many variables up to the viewer’s interpretation.
The film leaves the viewer feeling like they’ve missed something. It feels like a series of takes edited together, rather than a cohesive and functional finished product. I kept wondering if I had missed something. As it turns out, I missed nothing. The film was just badly edited, lacking continuity, and poorly put together.
Aside from a couple of mediocre gore scenes and a jump scare here and there, Playback didn’t offer much to the horror fan. It really doesn’t offer much as a thriller, either. It fails to find firm footing in either genre and plays out in an “unsure of what it’s trying to be” kind of way. The aforementioned sluggish nature of the film’s pacing makes it difficult to sit through, and there are very few thrills to be found. Even at 98 minutes, Playback is far too long. It fails to rise above the confines of its formulaic “teens go up against evil and bad shit happens” plotline, it also fails to take advantage of its ‘R’ rating.
A locker room scene and a handful of violent images, peppered throughout the film, are all that push it to its ‘R’ rating. If Nickles had leveraged the film’s rating to work in some shock value or especially gruesome death scenes, Playback could have been easier to sit through. It wouldn’t have made it a better movie, but it may have made it more tolerable to its viewing audience.
The drab cinematography brings nothing to the already bland film. Scene after scene of dreary and uninspired imagery brought me to the point of wanting to poke my eyes out.
Ultimately, almost every aspect of Playback worked together to the film’s detriment. There were so few redeeming qualities that the film is simply not worth your time.
The film hits theaters March 9th. You can check it out then, or find it on VOD now, but I would suggest exploring other options.