This Halloween’s creepiest film is a documentary


Spooky National Security Agency HQ

If you’re looking for a scary film to see this Halloween, forget warmed-over classics involving vampires, chainsaws and extra-terrestrials and get yourself to a screening of Citizenfour-–a film that out-creeps the rest with real-world villains. The story plot is high-tech but has a familiar ring:  Government officials secretly take a chainsaw to the US Constitution, suck up all of the world’s communications, and thereby gain the power to manipulate or drone-kill nearly every human on earth.

Directed by Laura Poitras, the documentary shares new details of the meeting between Edward Snowden, the insider who is privy to The Secret, and Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, the journalists he enlists to alert the rest of the world to a terrifying threat. Most of us already know the rest of the storyline: The NSA’s haunted castle is rocked by the exposure of its mass surveillance plot, triggering a worldwide witch hunt for whistleblower Snowden. Meanwhile, national security zombies try to trick the public into turning against Snowden by exhuming traumatic memories of 9/11.

Poitras’ voice-over in the trailer as she describes her initial contact with Snowden sounds eerily like the character Evey, describing her epiphany about government secrets in the film, “V for Vendetta,” a thriller about a November 5, “Guy Fawkes Day,” plot to overthrow a fascist government. Snowden’s warning to Poitras that she is being monitored brings to mind the thriller, “I Saw What You Did.”

To Observer film critic Mark Kermode, Citizenfour isthe most chilling thriller of the year,” and it has the meat-locker atmosphere to prove it.

. . . lines of dot-dash lights that could be digital code, but gradually come into focus as the overhead illuminations of a long, dark tunnel – the rabbit hole down which we must travel. An ominous, rumbling score adds menace, suspended chords and electronic creaks suggesting a descent into some Stygian world. Even in the brightly lit hotel rooms, the sound continues to alarm, the shrieking bell of a suspiciously timed fire drill setting our subjects’ nerves on edge – and ours.  (Kermode)

“Edward Snowden is both the ghost and the hero of Laura Poitras’s documentary about blowing the whistle on the spooks at NSA,” writes Richard Corliss in “REVIEW: Citizenfour Is This Halloween’s Scariest Chiller” (TIME Magazine, October 26),

The heroine of the new movie Ouija, who communicates with the dead through a Hasbro toy, can’t compete with Snowden. His Ouija board is his computer; it helps him access what he sees as America’s darkest real-life secrets. His hotel room is well lighted, but for eight days he’s trapped in it, like Cary Elwes in the Saw basement, with people he has to hope are on his side. The camera glare gives a ghostly pallor to the young man who had spent his last few months in sunny Hawaii; he could be a specter reaching out from the other side to warn the living. When he picks up his hotel phone and tells the operator, “There’s no Edward Snowden here,” you almost believe him. (Corliss)

Peter Travers (Rolling Stone) gives the film 3 ½ out of 4 stars and reveals a tantalizing piece of the final scene.

In a Moscow hotel room, Greenwald gives Snowden evidence that there’s a new, higher-placed whistleblower in town, ready to expose America’s surge from democracy to surveillance state and ready to name names that extend as high as POTUS. (Travers)

Unfortunately, Citizenfour has two significant problems:  (1) All of us star—willingly or not—in this real-world horror story; and (2) The ending is still in development.


Where to See It

Citizenfour opens on Halloween in the following cities (per the film’s website):

Albany, CA Albany Twin
Baltimore, MD Charles Theater 5
Cambridge, MA Kendall Square Cinema 9
Chicago, IL Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema 7
Columbia, MO Ragtag Cinema
Denver, CO Mayan Theatre
Houston, TX River Oaks Theatre
La Jolla, CA La Jolla Village 4 Cinemas
Pasadena, CA Playhouse 7 Cinemas
Philadelphia, PA Ritz 5 Movies
San Rafael, CA PFR Rafael Film Center 3
Seattle, WA SIFF Cinema at the Uptown

Those who live elsewhere will have to wait for their chills, but can while away the time learning how to protect themselves from winged surveillance monkeys.

Credits:  Featured image was composited by Linda Lewis from the following images:
National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland” by Unknown (NSA website). Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

“Carlsbad bats” by Tolka Rover at Flickr (Creative Commons license)