Review: The Focusing Effect (2018)

It’s almost time for somebody to wake up Billie Joel Armstrong and Green Day because September is quickly coming to a close and with that comes our favorite month – October. This October, as is the case with every October, will feature lots of brand new horror films with plenty of attention being placed on the big budget fluff coming out of Hollywood. So, as one final review before the inevitable madness of October 2020, I want to take a look at a true and blue indie film from “The Wonder State” of Arkansas. 

Written and Directed by Arkansas native Tanner Smith, “The Focusing Effect” is a found-footage/faux-documentary style film that takes place at an unknown college town in small town America. Following the story of Kevin and the creation of his film school capstone project, a documentary on college relationships titled “Dumpers and Dumpees”, the film tackles the fears and anxieties present with heavy artistic pursuits and the loneliness that can be brought on by creative endeavors. The film opens with Kevin interviewing friends and classmates and the opening act of the film features a number of interview vignettes detailing the trials and tribulations of dating in early adulthood. Slowly, the story begins to integrate some subtle leanings towards the macabre as Kevin catches wind of a recent break-up spurred forward by a suicide at the local prison. Kevin quickly finds himself in over his head and must make a series of decisions between his creative ambition and his humanity.

I’ve mentioned it before, I’ll mention it again, and you’d be remiss to think I won’t mention it here – every great horror film plays on a metaphor for larger societal insecurities. “Get Out” is the greatest example of this. That metaphor is what really stands out to me about this film because the “monster” in “The Focusing Effect” is a manifestation of Kevin’s artistic passion and drive. We’ve all heard that love is blinding, but in this faux-documentary on relationships, it is not romantic love, but artistic love which blinds our lead. The relatability is driven home even harder by the low-budget nature of the film and the ensemble cast of talent which gives the film a feeling of mumblecore. Anybody who’s decided to follow their artistic dreams will tell you that it is incredibly terrifying, and that is the focal point (pun intended, sue me) of this film. “The Focusing Effect” is not a scary movie, but it is an incredibly honest and vulnerable story that refuses to shy away from the fear of creative passion. 

So, is “The Focusing Effect” good? Ultimately, I would say yes. The film has a clear vision and I think that it succeeds in that vision. There’s some finer technical points that could be found to be lacking (cinematography, editing), but I personally think that aids to the story at large considering the faux-documentary format. The pacing is a little slow at times, but the inclusion of the interview vignettes inject some comedy and nuance to the story and help make these sections of slow plot development much more digestible. It’s not a perfect movie, no movie is, but given what this movie is, I think it accomplishes everything that it set out to do, and that, to me, makes it a good movie. Ultimately, “The Focusing Effect” is a comfort-watch film that will provide enough suspense to make you consider plugging in an extra nightlight. 

“The Focusing Effect” is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video. 

Rating: 6.25/10

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