A strange, compelling mix of true crime and sci-fi mystery, “Blue Hour: The Disappearance of Nick Brandreth” is wonderfully unexpected.
In this fascinating true-crime mockumentary slash paranormal mystery thriller, an avid photographer named Nick Brandreth goes missing without a trace while out shooting in the woods. The police rule it a suicide, despite never recovering the body.
Twenty-five years later, his daughter Olivia Brandreth (Morgan DeTogne) has become a true crime documentarian. She’s returned to her childhood home hoping to dig up some answers surrounding her father’s disappearance when she was just nine years old.
Aided by her producer Chris (Michael Kowalski), and cameraman Luke (Mike Headford), she begins investigating what really happened that fateful night in 1997.
Through conversations with family, the detective assigned to the case, a kooky private investigator, and the owner of a camera shop frequented by Nick, strange clues and hints at something more nefarious and complicated than imagined begin to emerge.
As Olivia and her crew dig deeper, the investigation becomes increasingly dangerous.
Guided by some recently uncovered, deeply unsettling photographs taken by her late father (the work of actor and real-life photographer Nick Brandreth), the team heads out into the Haddonfield Forest (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) — where Nick disappeared — in search of answers and unexplained phenomena.
Blue Hour: The Disappearance of Nick Brandreth is itself a bit of a strange phenomenon.
The first act is played straight, feeling very much like an authentic true crime investigation, complete with fake news clips and interviews with friends and family.
The real-life and very much alive Nick Brandreth provided his own photographs and home movies to give the film a sense of authenticity and credibility. During production, the film’s cinematographer, Mike Headford, took on the role of the in-world camera operator, Luke D’Antonio.
Clever choices like this not only help writer-director Dan Bowhers stretch his limited budget, but they work to achieve what the genre’s best mockumentary films, like Lake Mungo and The Poughkeepsie Tapes, are able to do so well: create a compelling sense of realism that helps invest the audience and makes the horror elements that much more potent.
Now, Blue Hour doesn’t quite rise to the level of those aforementioned films when it comes to terrifying authenticity and edge-of-your-seat audience investment.
The performances are a bit uneven, and some work better than others.
Yet, it remains quite effective, aided significantly by a stellar and wholly believable performance from the lead actress Morgan DeTogne.
Bowhers does a great job slowly peeling back the layers of the increasingly enigmatic mystery to keep you intrigued and to ensure you never quite know where the film is headed.
As the film introduces more and more puzzle pieces, it starts to become more confounding and convoluted.
What starts out as a search for answers surrounding a missing person, a very personal and profoundly grounded story, morphs into a more expansive — and considerably weirder — exploration of time itself and the nature of reality.
By the time we get to the final act, we’ve wholly entered the world of sci-fi oddity, confronted with a multi-layered probe of Fortean phenomena.
The film’s unusual approach is either what will entice you or turn you off as a viewer.
On the positive side, Blue Hour does a fantastic job differentiating itself from other true-crime and found footage mockumentaries. It may start off feeling very familiar, but it definitely doesn’t stay that way.
Further, it takes some big swings and keeps viewers guessing with an increasingly twisty narrative that’s unique and thoughtfully crafted.
If you’re a fan of true crime stories and unsolved mysteries, there’s much to love about the film’s first half. Though slow-moving, taking time for character development and world-building, it’s moody and engrossing, with a great score and strong visual appeal. I especially loved the scene filmed in a dark room, bathed in striking red light.
You’ll likely be immersed in trying to figure out what exactly happened to the missing renowned photographer, husband, and father.
If you love the first half, the latter half may go a little off the rails for your taste, especially as we almost completely lose the true crime foundation in favor of a surreal sci-fi horror thriller.
On the other hand, those who love the film’s eerie and hypnotic climax may tune out before things really accelerate into the wild and uncanny.
While the final act is engaging and entertaining, be prepared that it doesn’t exactly tie everything up with a neat little bow, and you’ll need to be ok with traipsing through the murky grey rather than basking in the illuminating clarity of black and white.
Still, I have to believe this film can find its sweet spot among those horror fans eager for something different.
This film is tailor-made for those who crave an interesting mix of styles and subgenres and appreciate being taken on a wild and unpredictable ride.
The execution isn’t flawless, and the film suffers a bit from trying to do too much and throw too many curveballs at us. Ultimately, however, it’s quite a bit of fun, and it’s difficult not to appreciate Bowhers’ ambition and creativity.
He demonstrates an admirable willingness to take big chances and subvert expectations at every turn. And I’m eager to see more from this talented filmmaker and more films like this that surprise and challenge me.