Thursday, October 10, 2013

Amber Alert (2012)

Amber Alert surprised me by being a really effective found footage film. Thinking about it, it's a great premise for a found footage film - albeit, one that doesn't involve any supernatural elements. Two friends, recording an audition for a reality TV show, wind up in hot pursuit of a vehicle allegedly involved in a child abduction according to an "amber alert" broadcast. When police fail to follow up in a timely fashion, the two (and their cameraguy) are confronted with the difficult decision of whether to risk their lives on the chance that they could be the only ones in a position to save a child from a horrible fate.

I know, you're probably thinking, don't I remember this plot from a Mary Worth comic? And yeah, the one friend, Sam, the girl, is on a warpath - you'd think she'd been abused as a child or something, the way she makes it her own personal crusade to make sure the hypothetical innocent child behind the dark-tinted windows of that car in front of them doesn't end up in a ditch somewhere. And she comes down pretty hard on her friend, Nate, at one point guilt-tripping him for the hypothetical girl's potential future rape, torture, and murder just because he prioritizes his own - and his friends' - safety over the unverified chance that the stranger in that car is a rapist and a killer, and that they're better candidates for the girl's savior than the police are.

Realistically, you can't fault him for not taking upon himself the responsibility of being the white knight, champion of justice. All the crime that happens in the world isn't your fault just because you didn't do more. On the other hand, there is that chance, and could you live with your conscience if you knew you might have been able to save a child from unspeakable horrors, but didn't? That's the dilemma at the heart of this film, but truthfully, it's not much of a dilemma, because 1) how could you say no?, and 2) there'd be no film otherwise. Unfortunately, the film also depends on the utter incompetence of the police force, which, (and I'm usually the first one to criticize the police) borders on the ridiculous here.

What's more, I'm hesitant to praise a film that glorifies vigilante justice. Not to mention one that tiptoes the balance between awareness and scaremongering. And though the risks taken in this film are met with serious repercussions, the vigilantes will, naturally, be hailed as heroes in the end. I'm merely concerned for the freedoms we take so granted, for if we are encouraged to look constantly for the worst in our neighbors, we risk devolving further into a paranoid police state. Truth be told, this film is not without its own share of flaws - not least of which is how annoyingly grating the main characters' shouting matches get, as realistic as they are. But this is a case where the whole thing comes off well enough that I'm willing to look past them. For in the end, this film takes you on a wild ride, and doesn't stop until you've reached the finish line. Which is not something you can say about every film in the found footage barrel, in which I am inclined to count this title among the cream of the crop.

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