Watch enough horror thrillers and you’ll spot the film’s fork in the road moment. That’s the pivotal point where the fimmaker’s decision is the difference between a good to great thrill ride or the start of the downward slope of diminishing returns. For The 16th Episode, that moment is so abrupt I kept wondering what happened to that promising thriller and why it got swapped out for this increasingly disappointing bore.
Director/Screenwriter Jérôme Cohen-Olivar has a clever, contemporary idea of three YouTubers traveling the world for their travel vlog. Helen (Rebecca Ramon) is the host while her longtime friend Einar (Einar Kuusk) handles sound mixing and Mark (Cody Heur) is the cameraman.
Their exploits have garnered a decent following, but the last show saw a drop in views. With bills mounting and questions concerning their ultimate career end game, the trio needs a big return on their investment for their next trip.
Then things start getting weird. The trio randomly gets invited to attend the wedding of their tour guide’s niece. That fork in the road I mentioned earlier? It arrives when the trio enter a room that clearly is not prepped for a wedding yet Helen decides to start grinding with a random woman as they’re circled by other guys. Oh, and possibly a witch dressed in all black with a hook nose for good measure.
Just the absolute basic logic would dictate Mark and Einar would recognize this as a terrible idea, grab Helen and get outta there immediately. Heck, Einar choked the tour guide out en route to the “reception” thinking they were about to get their organs stolen so he was clearly suspicious. Instead, they record as if everything is perfectly normal.
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Cohen-Olivar becomes a very unhelpful narrator as he starts dramatically jumping ahead instead of playing out a crucial moment in the film. This becomes a bad trend for the rest of the movie as Cohen-Olivar seems uninterested in paying off what he spends so much time setting up. Mark and Einar wake up to Helen vomiting and speaking in tongues.
Instead of sticking with this crazy scene, Cohen-Olivar skips ahead to presumably the next day where the trio is acting like nothing happened and Helen is recording her next segment. But again this gets weird as Helen starts laughing as she’s bleeding and cursing her mother while Mark and Einar don’t seem nearly bothered enough.
In rapid fashion, Helen descends into her possession and starts seriously creeping her pals out. Even for a horror thriller this doesn’t feel earned and Cohen-Olivar complicates matters further by having Mark and Einar repeatedly recite the tropes of found footage films.
That’s a narrative trick that only works with clever films and The 16th Episode isn’t nearly as smart as it thinks. It’s also frustrating that Einar and Mark don’t stick to that mindset when they start acting like movie characters instead of horror aficionados.
Cohen-Olivar also doesn’t do himself any favors with the shooting style, which alternates between the regular perspective and Mark’s camera POV. The latter is mostly used as a cheat for scene transitions via low battery or memory card full messages.
The shaky cam feels overdone at this point and Cohen-Olivar feels like he’s lagging far behind franchises like The Conjuring. To his credit, the film doesn’t look cheap with better than average production for a small scale project.
The 16th Episode starts off with promise, but by the middle chapter it chases away audience goodwill with questionable character decisions, stale scares and disorienting direction.
Rating: 3 out of 10
Photo Credit: Gravitas Venturas