Wesens is one of the rare found footage horror movies that delves into the philosophical and the emotional. And if that weren’t enough, it’s also a period piece. This South African debut film of Derick Muller opens up found footage to new heights and sets the standard for utilizing for genre for stylized cinematography beyond it just being handheld.
Premiering this year at the Unnamed Footage Festival, which showcases underrated and experimental found footage and POV films, the festival proves once again that they have their fingers on the pulse of innovations happening in that niche genre.
The film starts with a classic found footage adage at the beginning, detailing how these tapes were found in a box from a dead estate. It’s literal “found footage.” It shows footage from 1967 where a group of intelligence agents go to investigate a report of a UFO landing on a farmer’s land. They accompany their long road trip with some metaphysical discussions on space travel.
They then meet the farmer who they do an entertaining interview with, before being shown to the unidentified object in question. It is a large, black, egg-looking object that stumps them all. They send everyone else away for fear of radiation, then start a series of scientific investigations. However, their strict protocols are forgotten after one of them takes off his anti-radiation suit and makes contact with the object, seemingly out of his mind and affected afterwards.
The film focuses on the mystery of what the object is and why it is there, very reminiscent of the War of the Worlds radio play. But instead of leading to a dramatic alien invasion, it turns into a beautiful adaptation of an Afrikaans myth working with sci-fi elements.
Tonally, besides a few moments of comedic levity, the film is steeped in a dreamy, otherworldly mystique. It has a surprising amount of emotional weight behind it and asks uncomfortable questions about the state of humanity.
Wesens engages in the classic proverb of just because we can, doesn’t mean we should. The agents in this are working from very little knowledge of what’s going on, and yet still oversee the object, asserting their control over it, conducting experiments that they don’t knowing possible outcomes.
It definitely seems to be commenting on the political history of South Africa, specifically colonialism and the damaging effects of it.
As far as found footage films go, it’s pretty unique to be a period piece especially that far back, the only other one coming to mind being Frankenstein’s Army, which is very, very different. It takes on an appealing square aspect ratio with the rounded corners and a grainy, sepia-toned picture accurate for the time period.
Despite the limitations of the equipment, the cinematography is still stunning with the landscape showcased in beautiful detail, as it takes place entirely outside.
While it starts off resembling a documentary about a Roswell-like incident, it soon morphs into… something else. Instead of a more action-driven alien movie, it seems more like Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock. Mysterious and surreal, this film wants you to ask questions about humanity’s place in the universe and the consequences of our actions.
The sound design and score are also highlights of the film, as it aids in the surreal tone of the film and also contains some fun country South African songs.
Emotional, beautiful and unnerving, Wesens is an impressive entry in the found footage horror genre and will definitely stay on your mind afterwards. Combining metaphysical sci-fi with African mythology, this film is entirely unique and deserves to be seen. As it just premiered in America, there is not yet a release date for it. Check out the trailer below.