A Passable Police Parable, Body Cam (2020) Serves Very Few
Title: Body Cam
First Wide Release: May 18, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Malik Vitthal
Writer: Nicholas McCarthy, Richmond Riedel,
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Starring: Mary J. Blige, Nat Wolff, David Zayas
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After being suspended for assaulting a civilian, Renee’s (Mary J. Blige) first night back on the force ends with the grisly discovery of one of her co-workers. Minutes after arriving on the scene, Renee reviews the bodycam footage but cannot explain who or what killed her peer. The more she looks into it, the further she gets tangled in a web of conspiracies, lies, and supernatural phenomena. It is important to note that Body Cam is directed by Malik Vitthal, a Black man, and written by two white men, Nicholas McCarthy and Richmond Riedel, to fully understand what transpires in the film.
To start, I really like the overall setup of Body Cam but I feel like it did not live up to its potential. The idea of tying police brutality and supernatural justice makes for a compelling narrative. Unfortunately, Body Cam gets mired in the details that leave more questions than answers. Why does it all begin when Renee returns to the force and not sooner? Why is Renee allowed to have a redemption arc while others, who seem willing, are denied this opportunity? The more I found myself asking, the less enjoyable the experience becomes. Story aside, some of the dialogue comes off as stilted or hammy, which detracts from the legitimacy of the horror that should be happening onscreen.
Mary J. Blige gives a solid performance as Renee, which makes the film more enjoyable and rewarding to watch. Renee becomes more sympathetic as the film goes on, which feels problematic because we learn from her introduction that she was suspended from the force for police brutality… This is honestly Body Cam’s first big mistake and detracts from any message it tries to make. Anika Noni Rose does what she can with her role as Tameeka Branz but is ultimately sidelined in favor of a redemption arc for Renee. It’s a shame because Tameeka is easily the most sympathetic and compelling character in the film. I truly wish we saw more of her. The acting, overall, is largely fine from the rest of the cast.
Body Cam makes an effort to immerse viewers in its story with interesting visuals but is impeded by lighting issues and an average score. Sporting some standard scenes typical of a procedural horror film, Body Cam does showcase some cool shots here and there. One scene involving Renee, her dead son, and fluorescent blue water on the road is both mesmerizing and menacing. Unfortunately, much of the film is too dark to really enjoy the action that is materializing onscreen. Couple this with a largely forgettable standard horror movie score and Body Cam settles to a decisively average visceral grade.
Following this trend, the technical aspects of Body Cam are passable, but leave much to be desired. The editing makes the film feel jagged. Conversations and scenes flow irregularly and really take the viewer out of the moment. On the positive side, the effects are largely decent. I personally enjoyed the ghost design. I believe that the team around Body Cam could have gone farther and done more to obscure the terror to make a greater impact.
Many issues may plague Body Cam, but it still remains to be a relatively engaging and competent supernatural horror-thriller. The pacing is even, the horror sequences are frightening, and the tone is consistently dark throughout the picture. The decision to foray into the police corruption which accompanies police brutality is a welcome choice that elevates the film slightly above mediocrity. Body Cam loses the majority of its steam due to its characterization choices of Renee that are at best stupid and at worst unbelievable. It takes a lot away from the feature and makes for a frustrating watch.
The subject matter is important and necessary to parse through and horror, in my opinion, is an excellent avenue for Black creators to share their lived experiences. My hope is that these necessary conversations on police brutality and systemic racism are being shaped by Black creators and are not merely sanitized feel-good stories for white audiences to consume. While Body Cam is a direct metaphor for police brutality and corruption, it feels undercooked due to storyline choices that obfuscate this meaning. The biggest offenders are the decision to make the protagonist the fabled “good cop” and the source of the supernatural inquiry a “perfect” victim so to speak. The latter angers me a bit more because victims of police brutality should not have to be saints to elicit sympathy from those who hear their stories.
Body Cam is a tough film for me to review. There are flashes of brilliance and insight that pop up throughout the film, but it cannot make up for the overall lackluster procedural ghost story that surrounds those moments. I look forward to Vitthal’s next feature. It is clear that he is an emerging talent and I will gladly watch his next horror feature should he choose to direct one again. Body Cam is a middling account of supernatural vengeance that can be taken or left at the dashcam. It’s really up to you.
Overall Score? 5.5/10