Shooting feature length films on iPhones isn’t exactly a new concept, with films like Tangerine and Unsane proving that mobile phones are more than capable at capturing and telling engaging stories. Even with iPhones now able to shoot in 4K Dolby Vision however, it’s still rare to see productions utilise the versatility of mobile cameras. Threshold is a low-budget horror film that was shot using iPhones by a crew of three over the course of a twelve day road trip. The end result is messy but fascinating, in regards to both the narrative and the film’s production process.
Leo (Joey Millin) is tasked with searching for his sister, Virginia (Madison West), who has had a history of substance abuse. He finds her and it’s clear that Virginia isn’t dealing with things too well- thanks to a cult that has placed a curse on her that physically ties her to someone else. If the other person hurts themselves, she feels their pain, and vice versa. Virginia convinces Leo to take her across America to find the cult and lift the curse, on the proviso that she will go to rehab if they find nothing at the destination.
The cinematography wields mixed results throughout the brief runtime. It seems Powell Robinson (who is credited for shooting Threshold as well as co-directing alongside Patrick Robert Young) has opted to keep things simple when it comes to shot composition and movement- which was probably the right move. There are some experimental shots that work well – like when the camera is attached to the interior of an open car door, showing Leo walk to the car and following him climbing into the vehicle as he shuts the door – but too many similar shots would quickly turn the cinematography into a cheap gimmick.
The way iPhones frame and record video makes close up shots tight and claustrophobic, which is a perfect match for Virginia’s paranoia and the film’s creepy atmosphere. Several scenes are beautifully lit but there are some scenes and shots that do stick out for the wrong reasons. An early scene in a bright café looks as flat as a college produced short film, and a couple of shots at night have such an intense amount of film grain that it reminds the audience that they’re watching a film shot on iPhones.
Threshold thrives during its second act, when Leo and Virginia embark on their road trip and the film morphs from an unsettling horror to a character-driven drama. Time is taken to observe the pair attempt to rebuild their relationship, and the improvisational performances helps to keep the story engaging. Millin and West deliver strong performances as siblings coming together by catching up with each other and sharing troubles they have both buried deep within themselves. It’s often quite charming and even funny as the pair get involved in quirky situations, such as stealing ridiculous items from a petrol station and singing at a karaoke bar. Threshold seems to know that it walks a fine line between melding genres and becoming two different films, however, as each scene is capped off with a reminder of why the characters are here and what dangers lie ahead.
Tensions and scares ramp up towards the end, again with mixed results. A sequence involving an unexpected guest feels tacked on for the sake of reminding the audience that Threshold is indeed a horror film, but the climactic set piece is genuinely chilling and unnerving. Like any good horror flick, there’s of course a twist ending, but this one will actually make you want to see the consequences of the twist unfold in an extra act.
Threshold is an intriguing film, but not as intriguing as the behind-the-scenes story. Even with some minor technical set backs, the cast and crew have done a marvellous job of creating an enjoyable film with so little. It’s no doubt that everyone involved with Threshold will move on to bigger projects, and no doubt we’ll see more films shot on iPhones. It’s the kind of project that does prove that all you really need to become a filmmaker is a mobile phone and an interesting story… and most likely a small loan too.
Threshold is available on Arrow May 3.