Leaving D.C. – Review
After 20 years of living in Washington, D.C., Mark Klein seeks much-needed solace by moving to the remote wilds of West Virginia. To ease his loneliness, he sends regular video updates to members of his OCD-support group back in the city. But Mark gradually realizes that despite his new, isolated setting, he may not be alone. From the endless woods surrounding his home, something else is watching.
Welcome to Knockout Horror. Today we are looking at found footage horror movie Leaving D.C. A couple of days ago we attempted to Survive the Hollow Shoals and that didn’t go so great. Today we are off to the wilds of West Virginia. We will be checking out The Interior in a few days so definitely join us for that one. This movie came up as a recommendation after watching Survive the Hollow Shoals so it seemed like a pretty obvious review. It is currently doing the rounds on Amazon Prime.
Leaving D.C. Ending Explained
We have put together a Leaving D.C. Ending Explained article for this movie so feel free to go and check that out. Some people find the ending a little strange so we do our best to try and explain what is going on. Keep in mind that this is just our opinion and the article does contain spoilers.
As I have mentioned in other reviews, I believe Isolation is a fantastic theme for a horror movie. One of the best things about isolation themed horror is that it can be approached in a number of different ways. A person can be isolated in the middle of nowhere or they can be psychologically isolated in the middle of a city. Rosemary’s Baby is a fascinating example of the latter. It is as much a frame of mind as it is a physical state and each can be as terrifying as the last.
In the case of Leaving D.C the protagonist is socially isolated, away from the people he is closest to. He is also physically isolated in a remote location despite having access to a world of creature comforts. This creates an interesting dynamic that contrasts nicely with the typical “tent in the middle of nowhere” theme of isolation.
A new approach to Isolation Horror
Whereas Survive the Hollow Shoals followed a person attempting to survive outdoors in a hand made shelter. Leaving D.C takes a slightly different approach. Our protagonist Mark Klein has, seemingly, spent much of his life working a high pressured job in Washington D.C. Suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and severe burnout. Mark seeks to start a new life away from the trials and tribulations of city life.
Mark packs up his life and moves to an absolutely stunning house in the wilds of West Virginia. This beautiful house is located at least 6 miles away from anything or anyone. This seems like paradise until Mark starts hearing sounds outside of his windows. He also begins to notice things amiss in the grounds around his home.
Whereas the abundance of creature comforts removes a little of the isolation factor. The events that occur and Mark’s battle to understand them drag you into his world. Mark is lonely, despite being happy with his new home. He is creating update vlogs to ease that loneliness and when the events become more intense, his feelings of isolation become more pronounced.
A one man show
Before I say anything about the movie itself, it is worth me noting that Leaving D.C is the Josh Criss experience. Josh Criss directs, writes, produces, edits, and stars in Leaving D.C. It’s truly a one man show and there is very little that Mr Criss can be criticised for here. The direction and production is decent, especially for a Found Footage Horror Movie. The writing is excellent, the film is well put together, and the acting is, in my opinion, extremely good. Sure, our protagonist can seem a little underwhelmed at the events occurring around him but perhaps he is just a pretty relaxed guy?
Dare I say it but Josh Criss has a tiny little bit of Phil Hartman about him. He manages to inject a little irreverent humour into the severe goings on. His slightly tongue in cheek dry nature had me chuckling on a number of occasions. Subtle facial expressions at certain points go a long way to heightening the humour and it’s hard not to like the main character.
It’s worth mentioning that the entirety of Leaving D.C is filmed in Vlog style. It fits pretty neatly into the Found Footage genre. I am sure this will put some people off right off the bat. I am happy to say, however, that the cinematography is fine. There is very little shakiness and the quality of the camera is honestly pretty great. There aren’t any of the bizarre jump cuts and zooms that sometime plague Found Footage Horror Movies. The entire movie is presented in something of an unedited quality that lends a little more authenticity to the events. The film is well scripted, as well, so there is no awkward dialogue. My one complaint would be the occasional use of night vision which I find a bit annoying.
A New Start
We are dropped into Leaving D.C with little more than the title as a hint of what is going on. Mark Klein has left Washington D.C and moved to West Virginia to get away from the hustle and bustle. He has purchased an absolutely stunning house with a decent amount of land surrounding it. Mark is recording update Vlogs for his OCD group. He has promised to keep them up to date on how things are going at his new place. That’s about the bulk of the exposition here. A couple of additional characters will be drip fed in through video updates. We only actually spend any length of time with one of these characters – Claire played by Karin Crighton..
Mark approaches his move with optimism and is very happy with his new home. This is key to the subsequent events as Mark has no pre-conceived notions regarding country life. He is not in fear of the environment he has moved into. Mark is happy with his new home and spends his first night sleeping with the window open. He remarks, the next day, that he was awoken by the sounds of the wind. This is something I can relate to living on the Welsh sea front. Nothing particularly unusual here but this really takes us into the mind of Mark and how new this situation is to him.
Strange noises from the woods
With Mark being in a new, remote, environment, it’s not surprising when he informs his OCD group that he was woken up by the visceral sound of something he assumed was an animal. Anyone who has spent any time in the woods or out in the middle of nowhere knows how strange some animals, such as foxes, sound. To someone from the city this would probably be quite new. What a perfect setup for building tension. This also gives Mark an excuse to place a sound recorder at his window so he can capture the call of the animal that woke him up.
This is key to how Leaving D.C does things. The actions Mark takes in response to the things going on make sense and they follow a logical progression. Nothing is done without a decent reason and Mark never jumps to any conclusions. This is a refreshing change for a Found Footage Horror Movie. I could imagine reacting in the same way as Mark to a lot of the events occurring; I am sure a lot of us could. Recording the noise of an animal out in the wild and matching it to downloaded samples from the internet just seems like the obvious thing to do. Mark is a logical guy and he does logical things that make sense to anyone with an inquisitive mind. No jumping to conclusions or rushing into the paranormal, just pure curiosity.
Josh Criss manages to create a character that is believable in his curiosity. You actually become quite enthusiastic in accompanying him with his detective work. I found myself eager to listen to the next sound recording and you actually want to know what the camera traps caught. You even feel for Mark when his social group begins to move on leaving him as something of an afterthought.
An interesting element
Something I absolutely loved with Leaving D.C that I rarely, if ever, see in a horror movie was the use of a spectrogram to analyse the recorded audio files. This was also done in Japanese found footage horror Noroi: The Curse. It creates a really nice sense of anticipation as you notice anomalies in the audio and wait for Mark to observe them. That’s another thing that Leaving D.C does really well. The application of underused technologies that rarely feature in horror movies. Spectrograms, sound recorders, insect screens, door alarms, and more. Mark also sets up a couple of camera traps that make for some tense moments and a decent amount of suspense. Sure, many of these things have been used before in horror movies but rarely in this manner.
The use of sound is, indeed, one of Leaving D.C’s strongest points. Ambient noise is used to build atmosphere and most viewers will likely be surprised by some of the methods employed to heighten the tension. The antagonist of Leaving D.C is most definitely atypical and there are very few of the standard genre tropes that you normally find in these types of movies.
Is Leaving D.C the scariest film ever? Absolutely not! In fact, I didn’t find it particularly scary at all. It is, however, atmospheric and extremely creative. The fear factor doesn’t actually amp up until the end of the film when the actions of the presence become a lot more intense. A brief email from a user on a paranormal forum helps to explain what may be happening to Mark. It also gives us all a good excuse to scream at the television as the film comes to its inevitable climax.
Another Mental Illness Horror?
So earlier on you may have noticed that I mentioned Mark’s OCD group. This obviously suggests that Mark is a sufferer of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It appears he is medicated for this. Towards the end of the movie, as things become more intense, Mark starts drinking alcohol with his medication. This hints at some possibility that Mark’s perception is somewhat compromised and perhaps everything is not how it appears.
This has become an extremely popular horror movie trope as of late. Is it paranormal or is it mental illness? It is to the point that horror movie fans are coming up with the most ridiculous reasons to use mental illness as a reason for the events of almost every movie. To say that this is a tired and dull trope would be an understatement. The people who insist on forcing these correlations into places where they don’t actually exist are making horror forums an absolute chore to browse. In all honesty, it some times borders on being actually insulting to people who suffer from severe mental illness or personality disorders.
The movie attempts to throw a curve ball regarding this. Remember, we have audio recordings with spectrogram representations. I am sure the reality is somewhat up to the viewer to decide.
Is it a Knockout?
So what does Leaving D.C do wrong? Well, in all fairness, for a movie featuring, for all intents and purposes, a one man team and practically no budget; Leaving D.C does very little wrong. Maybe it could have been a little scarier? Maybe we could have had a little more story progression towards the third quarter? I would be nitpicking if I pointed out anything specific from the first 3 quarters of the film.
The main thing that Leaving D.C does wrong is its ending. We attempt to explain this ending in our Leaving D.C. Ending Explained article so check that out if you want our view on what happens. Man does this film ever leave you wanting more? It just ends out of nowhere and the credits roll. I was sorely disappointed and had to work pretty hard to push down feelings of disappointment. I was honestly leaning towards feeling as though I had wasted my time. It's as if Josh Criss was told he had to leave that house the next day so he quickly adjusted the script and wrapped up shooting on that day. Really disappointing and easily knocks a point or two off of the final score.
A big part of being satisfied with a movie is feeling though you got what you wanted from it and that there was closure. There is little closure here but it's hard to feel too angry as the movie was obviously made on a shoe string budget and the trip up to that point was a lot of fun. Leaving D.C is a fun horror movie with some creepy moments, excellent acting, a ton of creative touches that really make me wish that Josh Criss would have attempted something else after this. Maybe we could have a whole Bad Ben-esque series of Leaving D.C films? Actually, maybe not!