FPV Drones in Cinema (so far...)
As a massive horror movie fan, I love the direction that high-horror directors such as Ari Aster and Zach Cregger are taking the industry. I still remember the silence that overcame my friends and I outside of the theater after witnessing Hereditary. But there’s a certain itch that nothing else can seem to scratch. A cabin in the woods, overly-dramatized adults pretending to be teenagers, gnarly special effects, and a seemingly unstoppable threat picking the characters off one at a time. The campy horror culture holds a special place in my heart, and for me, the pinnacle of this is Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. So, you can imagine my excitement at the release of Evil Dead Rise.
However much I would like it to be, this is not a review for Evil Dead Rise. In fact we’ll really only be talking about the first five minutes of this movie in particular. But this movie offered me more than a campy romp, within the first five minutes I was given a chance to geek out as a character flies a cine-quad over an eerie lake.
The film opens with a recreation of Sam Raimi’s infamous camera trick from the original Evil Dead. A point-of-view flying through some trees, then over a lake. As it took a turn along the surface of the water my immersion broke for a moment. “Hey this is an FPV shot,” I said to myself. The combination of jittery movement and swelling demon noises successfully made it an unnerving scene. I got back into it. My immersion broke once again when this entity reached a woman sitting on a pier, and it cut to a drone zipping past her head. Then immediately a scene of the woman rightfully scolding the pilot wearing his DJI Goggles. I must admit that I felt called out. The drone is seen again shortly after being used in a much more gruesome fashion that I will not describe here, go watch the movie.
The use of FPV drones in the film industry is still relatively scarce. In fact, I can’t even find a decent list of movies that have utilized them. The movement and speed of FPV are really only fitting for specific genres of film, if Fast and Furious hasn’t done it already I’d watch closely on the next one. It was famously used extensively in the Netflix movie Ambulance (directed by Michael Bay), during high-intensity scenes. It was used in the same way for another Netflix original Red Notice. It’s not surprising to me that two big examples for this article come from Netflix action blockbusters, movies that require little engagement from the viewer and are packaged on an instant video service is the perfect place to test out the effects that new filming techniques have on viewers.
Evil Dead Rise is the first feature film that I’ve seen to use an FPV drone diegetically. Before the twist I thought of the shot as just a refreshed homage to the original, it serves the same purpose and all of the combined elements make it convincingly unsettling. I must praise the director, Lee Cronin for going about this carefully and achieving a refreshingly modern take on an old classic. It could have been enough for him to recreate the shot for the fan service, but like with the rest of the film, he made it his own. I'm impressed with the film's ability to cater to veteran fans of the franchise, but also that it works as a good entry for new fans.
Now I’d like to theorize the different tones that could be elicited with an FPV drone’s filming style. So far, we have only seen it used as a tool to heighten the viewer’s adrenaline. That’s certainly the first place my mind would go when trying to work it into a movie. But what other possibilities are there? The biggest holdup is that it can’t be used without extreme intention and direction. A cinema drone shot may fit well into any movie as an establishing shot, but an FPV drone can only go unnoticed as a further visual spectacle to what is already an ongoing visual spectacle. Anything else would just be distracting. But I’m inspired by Evil Dead Rise’s use as a storytelling tool, that the flight itself could be the main focus of the scene and continue the story, separating itself from being the gimmick that FPV is viewed as thus far. They thought of it as more and unlocked new potential for the medium. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this in another horror movie, it translates well as a POV for a quick-moving creature of sorts. Abnormal and twitchy movements are already a trend for horror movie baddies, so I feel there’s a lot more room for these two worlds to meet.
FPV is still only entering the world of feature films, and I’m invested in seeing where it leads. We know so far that it works for action and horror movies, but my imagination halts when trying to think of working it into a rom-com. I have no doubt that I’ll be surprised in the future and that directors will find new and interesting ways to make this technology work. As for me, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the box office for the next chance to geek out.