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An authentic killer POV film, “Looky-loo” is destined to divide audiences, but it’s a powerful meditation on violence and voyeurism.

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The best found-footage films use the camera’s POV to immerse the viewer and enhance the story, and perhaps nowhere is that best realized than when a film aims to make the viewer complicit in the onscreen horror.

It’s been a while since I’ve felt as unnerved watching a film due to its voyeuristic point of view as I was watching Looky-loo, one of the incredible found footage/POV films screening at this year’s Unnamed Footage Festival.

In the film, we take on the perspective of an unnamed aspiring filmmaker (played by the director himself, Jason Zink), whose face we never see except in brief glimpses through a mirror while he’s wearing a ski mask. As he obsessively captures footage everywhere he goes, we see everything through his eyes.

Through his shallow or elevated breathing, we feel his palpable excitement and nervous energy as his crimes escalate from simple voyeurism to home invasion to, finally, murder.

He hides in the shadows — first from outside and then from inside the home — methodically watching women as they perform the mundane tasks of daily living: watering plants, cleaning, eating dinner, watching television, and getting ready for bed.

He finds keys hidden in obvious places to break into the homes of women, reinforcing just how nauseatingly easy it is for a criminal to gain access to our safe spaces.

In fact, this is the kind of film that reminds you there’s really no such thing as sanctuary.

You’re never really safe, even in places where you feel most secure and comfortable — the places where you willingly let down your guard and breathe easy, which, for women at least, can feel so very few and far between.

We spend the majority of our lives painfully aware of how vulnerable we are and how much potential danger lurks around every corner. Being reminded that we may not be protected even in the nurturing space of our own homes is deeply upsetting and truly horrifying.

Looky-loo seems to be heavily inspired by the 1960 British psychological horror-thriller film Peeping Tom, directed by Michael Powell and written by Leo Marks.

That film, which is often hailed as one of the first slasher and killer POV films in horror movie history, revolved around a serial killer who murders women while using a portable film camera to record their dying expressions of terror, putting his footage together into a snuff film used for his self-pleasure.

Like Peeping Tom and the banned 1983 Austrian horror film Angst (English: Fear) directed by Gerald Kargl, Looky-loo puts you in the headspace of a psychopath and someone motivated and titillated by their ability to instill fear in unsuspecting victims, someone who craves the rush of snuffing out a life and watching that life get extinguished from an up close and personal vantage point.

Unlike those films, however, Looky-loo does not attempt to explain its psychopath. It gives you no backstory. It offers no glimpse of his life or relationships outside of his pursuit of women to film and murder. It offers no hint of understanding into his psychology, what makes him tick, or why he is the way he is.

He simply is, and he does as he’s compelled to do.

It’s this matter-of-fact, almost humdrum presentation of these horrid acts that makes what happens that much more unnerving.

It’s the realization that all just feels normal for our killer.

It’s the knowledge that the families of most victims of this kind of violence don’t ever get a satisfying “why” to make the loss of their loved one make any sense; they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s the dehumanization and random cruelty.

It’s the brutal truth that someone’s last day is almost always just another day… right up until the moment it’s not.

When watching films like Angst and other serial killer films, slashers, or blood-soaked Giallos, the violence can be shocking, disturbing, and even stomach-turning. But it’s easy to maintain a healthy distance from it. There’s professional lighting and camera work, a powerful score, and clever editing. You know it’s a movie, so there’s no guilt in enjoying the graphic but stylized murder.

Looky-loo offers no such comfortable distance, no reassuring reminder that it’s all just make-believe.

Instead, writer Nolan Mihail and director Jason Zink successfully make the viewers feel like voyeurs themselves, forced to watch all the horror unfold, helpless to stop it. We’re desperate to look away, but we keep watching, believing there must be some purpose.

There must be some satisfying conclusion. There must be some reason we’ve found ourselves behind this camera, watching these women, entering these homes, and filming this brutality. But what if it all just is?

There is almost no dialogue, score, fancy camera tricks, or plot in Looky-Loo, which has the effect I assume was intended: making it all feel grotesquely real. 

Looky-loo

The downside of all this authenticity is that it can feel a bit dull and repetitive.

It intentionally lacks typical cinematic flair, and the murder — though horrific and unsettling — begins to feel routine.

Again, I suspect that’s entirely the point. It doesn’t feel like footage anyone was supposed to see, at least not in this format.

Of course, on a meta-level, the fact that watching unspeakably horrible things happen to people could ever feel banal likely speaks volumes to the power of desensitization and the result of a society where tragedy is trivial and voyeurism is simply routine.

Looky-loo is not a particularly fun watch, but it is potent, and I can’t help but respect the effort and intent.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 3
Looky-loo premiered at the 2024 Unnamed Footage Festival (UFF), where it was screened for this review.

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