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LIFE OF BELLE Review: A Found-Footage Flick with Mixed Results

The photo is a missing poster that shows Belle
Image courtesy of IMDB

By Brendan Graham

I have a soft spot for found footage, a favorite in the horror genre. There's a certain allure to the unsteady camera work and the distorted audio, all contributing to a sense of authenticity that amplifies the fear factor. What's equally fascinating is how these films can be crafted on a shoestring budget. Get your family and a group of friends together, grab a camera or even your phone, and you can bring your creepy vision to life. In LIFE OF BELLE, filmmaker Shawn Robinson utilizes his friends and family as cast and crew to tell the story of what happened to the Starnes family and to ask the question, what happened to Annabelle Starnes, with mixed results and a frustrating conclusion.

The film begins with police footage of a typical investigation into a disturbance that ends with the grisly discovery of the bodies of the Starnes family: Father (Matthew Robinson), Mother (Sarah Mae Robinson), and a young boy named Link (Zachary Robinson) are all found dead in their family suburban home. Still missing is the eight-year-old daughter Annabelle (Syrenne Robinson), or Belle as the family called her, with no trace of what may have happened to her. The police report they are releasing the footage we are about to see to help identify and locate the young girl in hopes of her being returned safely.

The footage collected is compiled from the family’s house security system (similar to Paranormal Activity 2) and Belle’s camera that she’s using for her new YouTube channel - Life of Belle. This explains why the footage was collected in the first place. Belle is your average eight-year-old girl, and her YouTube channel's content is pretty accurate for her age - making slime, collecting worms, trying to keep her younger brother from running off with her stuff. As she continues to gather footage, it becomes clear that something is wrong with their mother. Her behavior becomes more and more erratic as it becomes clear that either she’s afraid of something supernatural that has attached itself to her and the family, or she is starting to unwind and become unstable. When the Father goes away on business, leaving the two young children with their mother, the activity increases, and her behavior becomes more bizarre and disturbing, leading to a shocking conclusion about what happened to this family.

A little boy stands in front of something in the dark
Image courtesy of IMDB

LIFE OF BELLE captivates from the start with its compelling mystery surrounding a murdered family and a missing girl. Featuring a genuine family in the lead roles, their authentic dynamics heighten the sense of impending dread for viewers as we eagerly await the events that lead to the outcome at the film's beginning. Despite limited acting experience, the cast delivers mostly solid performances, effectively propelling the narrative forward. The children particularly shine, handling intense situations with remarkable composure, albeit occasionally slipping out of character. The film also features a few fine scares, but they are largely borrowed from other familiar films and are still implemented well.

Where LIFE OF BELLE struggles is with the overall story and the execution of the ending. The film struggles with pacing, as many sequences drag for too long, or very little happens. A parent struggling with a mental illness experiencing paranormal activity, being considered dangerous, and their spouse not believing them is a tired trope that I would like to see put to bed as well. There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to mental health, and it feels lazy to put most of the focus on the side effects of medication and if the individual is “crazy.”

The ending borrows a lot from another low-budget feature, Skinamarink, where two young children are trapped and terrorized in their home, but in this case, a parent is around. Without spoiling anything, the ending feels more chaotic and emotionally upsetting than scary, as the last bits of the movie are hearing these kids cry and scream, and it’s more exhausting than anything. Is it shocking? A little, but the big reveal at the end is also quite goofy and effectively ruins any tension the viewer experiences. I was more frustrated than frightened, and that was a shame.

LIFE OF BELLE is an interesting low-budget, found-footage experience that doesn’t quite know what it wants to do with the story it’s concocted. It has some decent scares, and the family-oriented cast is mostly on point, but the tired trope of “Is it mental illness or something paranormal?” weighs the film down, and the distressing and frustrating ending makes the experience more exhausting than enjoyable. The mystery we begin with is more intriguing than the reveal we receive.

LIFE OF BELLE starts streaming on ScreamBox on May 17th, 2024.


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