When PhilaMOCA welcomes filmmaker Paul E. Owens to debut ‘LandLocked’, its most unique element isn’t just the level of horror or its suspenseful science fiction vibe. ‘LandLocked’ comes with personal storytelling, in that it uses the director’s old home movies to tell its chilling tale.
‘LandLocked’ follows a man returning to his soon-to-be demolished childhood home, where he discovers an old VHS camera and sees into his family’s dark past. Here, the old homestead’s evils become a character of its own. In ‘LandLocked’ — filmed at Owens’ personal childhood home in Franklinville, New Jersey, and with his own family members — there is a race to the finish in that the movie’s protagonist is pushed to record as many memories as possible before the house is destroyed forever.
Or is it?
Owens, a cameraman and film editor with several documentaries under his belt, approached ‘LandLocked’ as if it was a documentary, and drew upon many of “the filmmaking tricks” that he had accumulated throughout his years in movie-making.
“The genesis of ‘LandLocked’ was me returning to my old family childhood home after a long time away,” says Owens. “I discovered a big box of our old home movies and they all really blew my mind. They showed a happy family living together in a vibrant house, but years removed from that, that same house had fallen into disrepair and the individual family members had moved on. I got attracted to the idea of using a magical VHS camera of sorts to look into the past while our main characters were stranded in the lonely present.”
The use of home movies gives ‘LandLocked’ a warm, but certainly haunted feel, and another filmic texture to work with.
“I’m mainly a video editor, so having the chance to change the context of the home videos through the editing was a lot of fun,” Owens says. “There are moments in any home video where someone will look directly at the lens, a pretty natural thing. With the change in context though, where this is supposed to be a VHS time machine our character is looking through, it now seems like the ghosts of the past are taking notice of him and looking right into the lens at him. It’s a neat little editor trick that’s pretty spooky.”
Owens’ experience of returning home summoned in him an isolated feeling, “often surreal and scary,” and ‘LandLocked’ forges a feel to where the director believed his life was headed at that moment in time. Returning again, armed with his old home movies so to match scenes and room settings seamlessly, Owens began the filming process.
“I’ve always had a fascination with the place. For sure, we had kind of a charmed existence there — there was a lot of land to run around on and places to explore. It’s also a very old house. I think it dates back to the 1830’s so it always felt different from other people’s homes. There was a lot of weird architecture and additions/subtractions to the house over the years as it shifted owners. It made it feel like there were hidden secrets in the walls or even something like a monster made of dust that lived in some unseen chamber beneath the house.
“My family always threatened to tear the house down… so the concept was a kind of wish fulfillment for me: A video camera that can see into the past and record all the memories that ever happened in a space before that place is gone forever.”
As for casting real-life family members to play fictionalized versions of themselves in ‘LandLocked’, Owens is pragmatic. “We could use the actual old home video footage and then just have the real family members play the older version of themselves,” says the director. “Seemed like it would feel more real and unique that way and add another layer of meaning to the proceedings.”
As for family members making their presence known, Owens states his brothers made for fine actors.
“Mason is the best actor probably, so that’s why he’s the main character. My other brother, Seth, is enigmatic by nature and so we used that to help build the mystery. Everyone had their little part of the puzzle to play. I’m really grateful to my family for going along with this whole crazy idea.”
Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA) will host the premier of ‘LandLocked’ on Thursday, Jan. 26. Tickets cost $12 and doors open at 7 p.m. For information and tickets, visit philamoca.org