“Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story” (2015). Directed by James Moran. Written by Joseph DeLage, Ian Shorr, Victor Surge and Troy Wagner.
A news reporting team decides to cover a story about a clean up crew that visits foreclosed abandoned houses, and what they find in one sends them running for their lives as they are followed and tormented by the tall, slender eyeless suit wearing man known as The Operator.
“Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story” was pretty much what I expected it would be. It had ton of good scares, and I mean super suspenseful scary parts that were insanely intense. It’s so rare to find a horror movie that can create such horrifying, dread inducing sequences that this one does. Such as the main character going into the basement of an abandoned house in the middle of the night with a flashlight and a camera, with the audience expecting Slenderman to show up at any given moment– at any time IT could be there– when the camera goes from floor to ceiling, or the character turns and walks around the corner. You just don’t know.
Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. And that is what kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire movie.
It is genuinely scary. It gets in your head… If you let it.
“Always Watching” works because the director understands how to create suspense and fear. It establishes paranoia and fear in the viewer within the first 20 minutes of the movie. Is The Operator standing there? Or isn’t it? You never know, and that’s great! So few horror movies manage to dredge up this kind of terror in a viewer, which makes “Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story” a unique, and thrilling movie watching experience.
It is the threat of The Operator, “The man that is there but isn’t there”, the mere fact that it is a silent, looming presence that says nothing and forces people to act out their more horrible traits in ways that make even the characters shocked that they have done them, that really makes this movie special. The Operator, of course, is a creation of the brainchildren behind the classic Youtube horror series “Marble Hornets”.
Fun Fact: “Always Watching: A Marble Hornets Story” was originally titled “The Operator.” The “Always Watching” part of the title comes from some of the phrases that Alex Kralie wrote and taped to the walls of his room when Slenderman first started stalking him in the “Marble Hornets” series.
Unfortunately, because I’m such a huge fan of the Slenderman Internet Mythos and of Marble Hornets, I knew what was going to happen in the end, and that kind of made my opinion of it drop from “This is freaking awesome, it’s so scary!” to “This is a very ,very good scary movie.”
I think the pacing was off at times, but that might be because of the fact that Marble Hornets was a Youtube Series that ran over the course of 5 years from start to finish, so it had time to draw things out, whereas the film had under two hours to tell the entire story. There was less time dedicated to the awful spookiness of it all. Maybe it was more because we spent less time with the characters that it just didn’t stick in my mind the way that “Marble Hornets” has. I mean, there’s a big difference between one and half hours and five years.
So, what does Always Watching do that Marble Hornets didn’t?
There were a lot more characters involved in The Operator’s schemes in the movie than there were in the series, and there weren’t any masked Proxies lurking around to make things complicated, and make the audience wonder just who in the hell the main character should really trust. “Marble Hornets” was fantastic at building the unreliable narrator scenario, and events when The Operator showed up were so terrifying that they made sleeping at night a bit difficult for thousands of viewers, myself included. I’m not complaining. It’s very rare when something can scare me so much that the fear stays with me over the course of a few weeks after I’ve seen it. If you have never watched the “Marble Hornets” Youtube series, I highly recommend that you do. It is the perfect example of how to set up the appearance of an unspeakable horror, and how to execute its arrival onto the screen.
Overall, Always Watching is a good movie, and a solid one at that. It has some fun Easter Eggs in it, like this one.
Doug Jones was phenomenal as The Operator. It was a non-speaking role. All of the menace and lurking dread was conjured up by Jones’ body language. There aren’t a lot of actors that can pull that off, and he does it swimmingly. I wholeheartedly approve of the faceless, eyeless, non-speaking, lurking entity haunting people via cameras.
But as a long time fan of the series who started watching it since it’s inception in 2009, just a few months after Victor Surge invented the Slenderman character on the Something Awful forums and it started to become a viral Internet meme, I think “Always Watching” missed out by not including a few crucial aspects of the MH universe. Mainly, people disappearing without a trace, and reappearing in other places– the Operator can manipulate time and space it seems– and the Proxies that try to lure victims that are curious and attempting to solve the mystery deeper into Slenderman’s grasp.
“Always Watching” didn’t go totally crazy with the video tears (horizontal lines cutting up the feed) and crazy sound effects like Marble Hornets did, which is OK, especially when the cameraman, of whom was a professional, actually held the camera steady throughout most of the scenes!
Can you imagine? A found footage film where you don’t need to take Dramamine before you sit down to watch it? It’s a miracle!
Even better, the jump scares in it weren’t accompanied by a very loud noise. Yup, that’s right. The jump scares were done correctly. There was no musical crescendo, no blaring horns or violins. Just silence and sound effects made by the characters in the film. I applaud that.
Long time fans of Slenderman and “Marble Hornets” will appreciate this film for what it is: a “Marble Hornets” side story about characters driven mad and controlled by The Operator.
For once we have a horror movie that’s exactly what the title says it is. How about that?
Honestly, I can’t recommend this movie highly enough. Just, do yourself a favor and don’t watch it in a dark, silent house with the headphones on like I did. Unless, of course, you want to be scared out of your mind. Then you can go right ahead and do that. Just make sure that the window blinds are drawn, or you’ll be looking outside every time you walk by them on your way to the bedroom at night.