My attention immediately captured by one review that described Playback as “Ring meets Halloween”, I envisioned an ingenious masterpiece derived from the concoction of two of my favourite horror films. Even when I heard that the cast included Christian Slater as the local cop, my hopes remained high and my fingers remained crossed as I held my breath for what could potentially be my “ideal” horror flick.
I needn’t have bothered. Within the first few scenes it was obvious that this was nothing more than a piece of mindless teen horror garbage- and not even a very good one at that- belonging to the genre’s relentless ‘junkmail.’ The likening of Playback to the marvel remake of the Japanese horror classic must have been purely its inclusion of a videotape and distorted TV screen, or perhaps the ill mention of it as one of the characters “favourite film.” As for its similarity to one of horror’s most legendary teen-slasher films…I’m still clueless to what it is.
The film opens in the past as we witness the live footage of a series of murders through the killer’s video camera. Fine. Jumping forward however many years, the communities hidden-but-not-forgotten secret is dug up by college student Julian (Johnny Pacar) to use for his school project on ‘what changed a community.’ But as he digs deeper into the infamous history of his town, he unlocks an evil; an evil back with vengeance and eager to possess and destroy anyone through video playback.
The plot plays out very much like this for an hour or so- a group of college kids trying to get hold of documents and stories. What gives the story a slightly more interesting disposition is when Julian’s friend Quinn (Toby Hemingway) comes across “the” video whilst working at a video sorting depot. After playing back the tape he becomes rapidly possessed, killing off Julian’s friends (none of whom we have any emotional connection to or association with) in a gruesome bloodshed form and possessing others by luring them to look into one of his hidden cameras and “zapping” them from his TV monitor. Other than that, I’m not sure what the significance of the handheld cameras was exactly, apart from capturing footage of naked girls to sell to corrupt-cop Christian.
I was left scratching my head, trying to work out if this was a story of the possession by an evil entity or indeed a slasher. I suppose we could applaud director Michael A. Nickles for entwining the two, despite the already implemented serial-killers-goes-viral formation. But its delivery is confusing and it comes across more as a disjointed jumble of concepts. What first appears to be a curse or entity full of revengeful purposes and even genetic motivations turns into a random massacre of teenagers who enjoy nothing more than pool parties, listen to dreadful music and be obsessed with a murder that happened two decades ago. It is for this reason that the acting is hard to comment on, the breadth of credibility automatically severely limited.
Even the climatic revelation of Julian’s former history in the film’s conclusion seems irrelevant, and the showdown between Quinn, Julian and his mum even less spectacular with hammy one-liners and a few too many gun shots. Unless for some reason you'd like to see Slater's head blown off by a shotgun, don't waste 1 hour and 38 minutes of your time with these teenagers!