Directed by Russ Emanuel, Occupants is a horror-science-fiction found footage film. Screened virtually during Salem Horror Fest 2020, the film is “recovered” from the main character’s remote access servers. It follows a documentarian named Annie who has roped her husband into a vegan detox diet that he isn’t exactly thrilled to undertake. With the goal of cutting out processed foods, animals, and anything not grown by herself, Annie plans to record her and her husband Neil’s detox process because of how interesting it was when they quit smoking. This involves setting up cameras throughout their house. But, complications arise when the cameras start showing that same couple in an alternate universe.
As a genre, found footage tends to get a bad wrap, and unjustly so. Found footage allows the viewer to feel like they have access to something personal being shared unintentionally, especially when it’s presented as largely unedited. That said, that feeling of having access to something you’re not supposed to see is what Occupants thrives on. Annie and Neil are supposed to only be recording themselves but in doing so, they’ve tapped into something else entirely, something that isn’t supposed to be theirs.
While the dynamic between Annie and Neil is what makes Occupants entertaining, it’s the way the alternate reality and their realization of it are executed that makes the film entertaining. Instead of Annie dealing with gaslighting from her husband, as is the case with most weird events happening to a couple in films, Neil doesn’t question her. Instead, he provides the perspective of how people may see it from the outside, before ultimately coming around.
As the twists start unfold Occupants really finds its footing. Tension, suspicion, and morality all come into play in an uncanny way. As the lives of the alternate Annie and Neil begin to blur and meet, the story’s format changes completely and it leans into a science fiction base that works well for the narrative.
My only complaint is how quickly the film jumps from one scene to the next with small static moments as transitional elements. While this static jump is done to show the alternate reality seeping into Annie and Neils’ world, it becomes a cumbersome element that is done too often. That said, having Annie in the role of documentarian recording her life and watching the footage back is an interesting element of the film. Shown as four sections on the screen, we see Annie in the top right surrounded by three other video feeds. This is a great tool for exposition and as a way to have the couple interact and discuss what’s recorded in a way that doesn’t feel forced into the narrative. Additionally, the use of overlays while watching the film back adds a screen-narrative element that adds character to the film.
Overall, Occupants isn’t perfect and some of the writing feels a little too stiff and expository with too much information given on insignificant elements. That said, the film is fun, entertaining, and utilizes elements of screen storytelling and found footage in creative ways. But beyond that, Annie and Neil feel like a real couple. Their frustrations with each other, their connection to each other, and their chemistry overall.
Occupants isn’t perfect and some of the writing feels a little too stiff and expository with too much information given on insignificant elements. That said, the film is fun, entertaining, and utilizes elements of screen storytelling and found footage in creative ways. But beyond that, Annie and Neil feel like a real couple—their frustrations with each other, their connection to each other, and their chemistry overall.
Kate Sánchez is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of But Why Tho? A Geek Community. There, she coordinates film, television, anime, and manga coverage. Kate is also a freelance journalist writing features on video games, anime, and film. Her focus as a critic is championing animation and international films and television series for inclusion in awards cycles.