It took a few days to process Infrared, a found-footage ghost story so irritating that writing about it felt like picking at a half-healed scab. It’s a film made with clear passion for production that doesn’t translate into a viable final product. In an interview with the Australian website Bluntmag, director Robert Livings and star Greg Sestero talked about shooting the film in California during the pandemic with a small crew under difficult circumstances. They call the film “improv horror,” particularly related to B-movie icon Sestero’s performance as the groundskeeper of a haunted school. They clearly had a lot of fun making it. At least someone had fun.
Fans of The Room will recognize Sestero, who played Mark in that quintessential cult classic. Almost 20 years later, Sestero remains incredibly handsome and a magnetic screen presence. He’s actually not half bad in his follow-up with Tommy Wiseau from a few years ago, Best F(r)iends. He’s bad here, but frankly, on-screen improvisation rarely brings out the best in a performer. By the third act, Infrared is just a lot of yelling. Frantic, improvisational yelling. It feels less natural than a well-calibrated and thoughtful performance.
Calibration is the key here, and core to all of Infrared’s problems. Horror works when it has an opportunity to flow from setup to payoff. Grim aesthetics matter little when there are no characters we care about in peril or, at the very least, relatable life scenarios upended by terror. The vast majority of the runtime switches between “sources” of found footage from behind the scenes of a ghost hunter show, Infrared, and its dogged host, Wes (Jesse Janzen). Wes’s experiences with the supernatural lead him and his crew to a haunted school (a real abandoned location in Sacramento, apparently) where they try their damndest not to become the next victims.
So little actually happens until the final few moments — particularly with regard to scary bits — that the whole thing feels about as interesting as finding actual footage of a film production would feel. Lots of waiting around for something to happen.
To Livings’ credit, the final act produces a few very basic, but nonetheless effective, jump-scares. Sure, they’re just lifting the same premise and execution from the end of found-footage masterpiece The Blair With Project, but at least it’s something.
I tend to be forgiving of independent and low-budget horror fare, but Infrared is just tremendously boring. The 85-minute running time somehow feels longer, so generally devoid it is of anything interesting happening onscreen. I went in optimistic at the possibility of an indie horror film with a few jump-scares but found myself metaphorically nodding off. Sleeping on it was a mistake: After just a day, it feels like the whole thing has evaporated. It’s a horror story destined to haunt only the darkest depths of some streaming services’ back catalog.