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Horror Meets Social Commentary in ‘Body Cam’

A familiar tragedy in our country gets a supernatural twist.
By  · Published on September 21st, 2018

Lately, horror films have contained more and more socio-political relevance as a reflection of our own nation’s current turbulent climate. Movies like Get Out and The First Purge have heavily featured themes like race relations in America and the tensions between law enforcement and the black community. Obviously, one film mastered the balance between social commentary and horror much more effectively than the other. However, the point remains that we are entering a new kind of subgenre in horror, where these themes are infused into what makes the movies scary and are explored through the actions of their characters.

Paramount Pictures is clearly joining in on the burgeoning subgenre with their upcoming film Body Cam, which centers around an unfortunately familiar story we see much too often in the news today. According to Deadline, the movie is about the killing of a young black male at the hands of the LAPD, who then try and cover up the crime by getting rid of their body cam footage. This is where the gritty, realistic aspects of the film disappear, however.

Following the burying of evidence, the cops find themselves the target of an evil, vengeful spirit — no doubt one directly tied to the recent tragedy. Body Cam then transforms from a drama and family tragedy narrative to a bonafide haunting flick. This is a much more direct approach than other social commentary horror films, and seems to have a foot in both doors genre-wise. It also features a pretty varied cast, curiously with more than one coming from a musical background.

The most notable cast member in Body Cam is singer-songwriter Mary J. Blige. Besides her extensive music career, Blige has experience in film and television, most recently in 2017’s Mudbound and the show Scream: The TV Series. As the former deals largely with racial tensions in the Jim Crow era South, and the latter is a horror series, it would seem the acting side of her career is finely tuned towards her role in Body Cam. Her character has not been revealed, only the name “Renee,” but it seems likely that she will play the more prominent role of the mother of the deceased.

Another musically-inclined actress was recently announced as joining the picture: Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the FrogDreamgirls). I have to wonder if Body Cam is secretly a horror-drama-musical mashup, but let’s hope not. I’ll never say no to a good musical, but in this case, that may be a little much considering the heavy subject matter and the addition of supernatural elements.

The curious cast also includes Nat Wolff (Paper Towns) as “Danny,” Theo Rossi (Luke Cage), and Dexter actor David Zayas as “Sgt. Kesper.” While Rossi seems fit for a cop role like Zayas, Wolff is a more interesting addition, as it’s unclear at the moment where he fits into the story. While his brother Alex recently starred in the impressive horror flick Hereditary, Nat’s filmography consists much more of YA romantic fare like Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars. However, it may be more accurate to say his more popular films have been romances, as he did in fact star in the poorly received live-action Death Note remake. Clearly, the elder Wolff is seeking redemption from this role and is exploring more thrillers and dramas, such as his upcoming films Rosy, Mortal, and The Kill Team. Perhaps Body Cam will be the first step in proving himself capable of these kinds of roles.

It’s not obvious which way Body Cam will lean more, towards the drama or the horror side of things. No matter which aspect it decides to focus more on, it definitely has something to say in terms of the way we as a nation are processing current events like those in the film. The Black Lives Matter movement and discussions about police violence are so prevalent in the news and online, but have we become used to seeing these kinds of tragedies so often that they lose their inherent horror? In other words, is it no longer shocking and horrifying enough to see black people killed by cops in such large numbers, that we now have to add an element of supernatural horror to replace or reawaken the horror of the real-life occurrence?

What Body Cam should, and hopefully will, do is make sure they do not hinder the seriousness of these issues when they turn this familiar narrative into a ghost story. Instead, maybe the malevolent spirit pursuing the cops responsible needs to serve as a supporting or minor plot point while the true horror, the death of an innocent, is kept at the forefront. The themes of revenge and righting wrongs are important and relevant right now, but I do hope that in the future we can make and enjoy horror films with black protagonists without there also being an element of racially-motivated violence.

Body Cam is currently filming and is directed by Malik Vittahl (Imperial Dreams) and written by horror filmmaker Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) and writer-producer John Ridley (12 Years a Slave and American Crime).

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Kendall is a recent graduate and San Diego native who is passionate about the environment, writing, and above all else Keanu Reeves.