PROJECT Z (PROSJECT Z) movie poster | ©2023 Dark Sky Films

PROJECT Z (PROSJECT Z) movie poster | ©2023 Dark Sky Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Eili Harboe, Regina Myra Tucker, Jonis Josef, Vebjørn Enger, Iben Akerlie, Arthur Berning, Dennis Storhøi, Alexandra Gjerpen, Thea Sofie Loch Næss, Ole Christoffer Ertvaag, Laila Goody
Writer: Henrik M. Dahlsbakken
Director: Henrik M. Dahlsbakken
Distributor: Dark Star Pictures
Release Date: November 3, 2023

Making movies about making movies is a tricky proposition. Examples of the highs that can be reached when this is done right include THIS IS SPINAL TAP and THE FABELMANS. Examples of what happens when such highs are not reached include PROJECT Z (PROSJECT Z).

To be clear, PROJECT Z is far from the worst of either the indie filmmaking or found-footage horror genres, which are combined in this Norwegian entry. It’s well-made enough. But it doesn’t have much new to say about either of its main topics.

We start out being informed that we’re watching THE DEAD AWAKEN (DE DØDE VÅKNER), shot in 1989 Norway, which has been assembled from recovered footage. A couple in a camper fan, Thomas (Arthur Burning) and Rebecca (Iben Akerlie), don’t notice a scarecrow with a human skull as they drive past it on a snowy mountain road. They hit something, and Rebecca gets sick to her stomach.

But, surprise, it turns out that they are really actors – Thomas is Arthur, and Rebecca is Iben. Their director is Julie (Eili Harboe), a student filmmaker who demands a lot of takes and is insistent on her “vision” (her term).

Eili’s boyfriend Felix (Vebjørn Enger) is the d.p., his camera operator is the playful Leon (Jonis Josef), and Maria (Regina Myra Tucker) is the loyal producer. They all seem to be students, although apparently Iben has a reasonable acting resume.

THE DEAD AWAKEN evidently also has a larger-than-usual budget, too. Not only can the production afford an impressively art-directed cabin in the mountains, but the team has also hired professional actor Dennis Storhøi (playing professional actor Dennis Storhøi, who was in THE 13th WARRIOR with Antonio Banderas and, more recently, TROLL) to play the primary zombie.

Sensitivities are bruised, egos are on display, and there are romantic distractions. There is also a meteor shower, which creates a small crater with an egg-shaped meteor artefact inside.

This goes exactly where we might expect, despite the fact that it’s really hard to buy that film students in 1989 haven’t seen ALIEN.

Apart from this, it’s difficult to ascertain what Julie’s “vision” is. Does she have one, or is she just using that vocabulary to seem like a real filmmaker? Both would work, but it’s unclear what director/writer Henrik M. Dahlsbakken wants to say here. The serious parts of Julie’s (i.e., Dahlsbakken’s) movie create some atmospheric tension, but a lot is played for laughs that fall flat.

A number of filmgoers have their own experiences of crummy days on set, and everyone has seen depictions of it. People being unpleasant in the name of creativity is real, but it’s not inherently hilarious. More is needed, starting with a coherent point of view, for it to be funny. As for scares, we get few jumps, and it’s hard to work up concern for the characters.

There is a twist at the end that is honestly surprising, the haunted-looking cabin is impressive, and the Norwegian landscape is gorgeous. Those are better reasons to recommend PROJECT Z than its quotient of either humor or terror.

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