Picked at random because it had Christian Slater on the cover and, hey, how bad could a film with noted celebrity C-Slate be? Very disappointed to discover upon watching that he only plays a minor role and also isn’t trying to do his best Jack Nicholson impression throughout. I feel as though this movie has tricked me. It is also not helped out any that the best actor in the movie actually is Christian Slater in the couple of minutes of screen time he gets.
Playback follows the exploits of some idiot teenagers as they attempt to uncover the truth of what happened 18 years ago when Harlan Diehl murdered his family. They are doing this because one of them has a journalism class project and he wants to make a short film that, from what I can tell, is just a recreation of the murders themselves. This leads to possession by an evil ghost, lots of random murder for no reason, and a terribly predictable ending. The most unbelievable thing in a film about possession from an evil spirit is that any teenager would go to the lengths that this kid goes to just to make a class project.
Much of the tension in the movie is lost because of how little the powers and motives of our main bad guy get defined. He definitely has powers somewhat related to video and can maybe control people through it? The first time he does it, it seems like he just makes some girl go zombie-eyed and murderous but then he does it to another girl and she stays completely capable of interacting with people but is his slave. Also, we get this story about how he has to pass his spirit on from father to son in some kind of ritual but the first thing that happens is he possesses some other kid that isn’t his son. Also, that possession takes like a second of watching some footage where possessing his son takes forever.
Plot wise, the movie wants you to know that it knows all about horror movies and has a random scene just so they can mention The Ring, Scream, and Freaky Friday. Movie about video, movie about movies, and a parent/child body swap. Good job, film, you reminded everyone that the themes you are working with have been done before and much better than you. As mentioned, the main goal of our evil daddy spirit is to get into his kid’s body but he mostly spends all but the end of the movie killing people, fucking with people, and generally not using his ghost powers to do anything that would help him accomplish this. Hell, when he finally does capture Julian, our protagonist, he just also has his girlfriend along for…no reason. Like, he had kidnapped her earlier and just had her in his van for hours, risking being caught if anyone hears her back there, and all because he just feels saucy, I guess.
I’d also like to give a special shout out to the editing in this movie that makes it seem like everyone can teleport everywhere. In the final scene, Julian’s mom calls and Quinn (the possessed boy) picks up. She then drives out from her home in a the suburbs to an abandoned farm house in the country in, what would seem from the movie, to be about 4 minutes worth of time. Additionally in that scene, Quinn goes out to the van to fix the power and in the time it takes him to walk outside and switch jumper cables from one battery to another; Julian’s girlfriend manages to get free, run upstairs, bite the restraints off Julian, get her own restraints off, and then run outside without being heard or seen by Quinn. Note that he had already started walking into the house once she headed up stairs.
In all, the movie feels like it had some interesting ideas and sort of knew what it should be doing but just never managed to deliver on it. The acting wasn’t terrible but felt like everything else in the movie; not quite where it wants to be. I’d give Playback a 2 out of 5. It’s entirely watchable but not particularly amazing.
Favorite thing in the movie: The movie calling out shakey-cam as terrible and headache inducing.
Least favorite thing: The constant “video tearing” effect that happens throughout the film, even when it’s not from the perspective of a camera. We get it. It’s a movie about video. Stop it. That’s annoying.