15: An Exploration of Human Violence (2011) – By Emily Intravia

As found footage horror becomes the go-to style of 21st century independent genre cinema, filmmakers are slowly finding ways to add twists that make their stories stand out. Jason Hawkins’ 15: An Exploration of Human Violence starts with a premise we’ve seen before in films like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and Man Bites Dog, adding some new touches with an extremely dark flavor.

15 follows Jack (Bob Olin), a financially struggling cameraman who finds an ominous–but irresistible–job offer on Craig’s List to film “an exploration of human violence.” The ‘exploration’ comes courtesy of Edward Allen Payne (played by director Hawkins), a self-professed serial killer who plans on turning himself into the police after Jack and journalism student Brenda (Natasha Timpani) film a biographical documentary while staying at his secluded farmhouse.

As you expect, the job has more catches than any Craig’s List flagging system can adequately prepare you for. With his pleasant but awkward demeanor and clear mommy issues, Edward initially strikes Jack and Brenda as a joke. As they go through the motions of documenting his requests, the pair also hits up the city of Portland with a microphone to interview real-life pedestrians about society’s fascination with violence and serial killers. These scenes–genuine ‘man-on-the-street’ interviews–offer some interesting commentary on the film we’re actually watching, providing random observations that stick in our minds once 15 reaches its third act.

Yes, Edward is indeed a brutal killer, a sadistic monster of a man with literal skeletons in his closet. The first reveal of his identity is quite horrifying, as the descending action–of which includes rape, strangulation, and torture–forces us to question our own motives in watching it unfold. Though some of the scenes become a little heavy-handed and self-aware, the improvised dialogue is aided by the low budget, making 15 feel almost snuff-like in how it unfolds.

15 is rough around the edges and doesn’t quite transform the genre, but in the glut of first-person-filmed horror, it makes an ambitious and effective stamp all of its own. The film is due on DVD in November. For more information, visit the official website at 15thefilm.com.