Some would argue that the drone shot is killing cinema. It allows filmmakers to get hovering, god’s-eye views without having to hire a budget-breaking crane or helicopter – but the wobbly distance that it offers gets tired, like everything else, with gratuitous overuse (especially in indie documentaries). In The Drone, however, these shots are not gratuitous, but part of the very fabric of the film’s narrative focalisation.
“These peeping toms are the worst,” the voice of a radio DJ is heard commenting at the beginning of The Drone, as he reports on a serial creep who first spies on his red-headed victims with an unmanned aerial vehicle at their window before abducting, raping and murdering them. As we hear these words, what we see is a drone’s eye view of a woman undressing, so that we are all at once made peeping toms ourselves, and subjected to censure for own voyeurism – all to the accompaniment of Al and Jon Kaplan’s synth score whose electronic pulse riffs significantly on the theme from TV’s Knight Rider. The drone’s operator, dubbed The Violator (Neil Sandilands), is raided by the police, and killed in a rooftop confrontation – but not before he transfers his soul into his drone.
This is essentially the premise of Tom Holland’s Child’s Play (1988), but with a drone instead of a doll. Where Lars Klevberg’s 2019 reboot of Child’s Play recently dispensed with the crazier supernatural aspects of the original – voodoo, demonic possession, metempsychosis – replacing them with the greater rationalism of a high-tech AI device whose control mechanisms have been sabotaged by a disgruntled worker, director Jordan Rubin, who co-wrote The Drone with the Kaplans, has already demonstrated his willingness to embrace the dumb-assed with his feature debut Zombeavers (2014) – and in his latest, he goes in both directions, with a piece of kit possessed by the perverse consciousness of a dead man, but also capable of taking over any digital device.
Moving into a state-of-the-art LA house, architect Rachel (Alex Essoe) and photographer Chris (John Brotherton) find the happiness of their new marriage threatened not just by the man-eating ‘milf’ Corrine (Anita Briem) next door, but by the drone that they found in the trash outside and ill-advisedly brought into their home. With a camera-based eye for Rachel and a capacity for serious domestic-appliance disruption, the drone takes on the traditional rôle of bunny boiler as it exposes the technophobic tensions and anxieties in this couple’s modern bourgeois life, and escalates its intrusive assaults to ever more absurd pitches.
If the premise of The Drone is ludicrous, it knows it – and has great fun with showing the incredulous responses of its characters whenever anyone tries to describe precisely that premise. This is a domestic thriller pitched in that improbable intersection between Wes Craven’s Shocker (1989), Joseph Ruben’s Sleeping With The Enemy (1991) and Travis Knight’s Bumblebee (2018). Here the villain is a rotor-borne camera (that at one point doubles as a colonoscope), and his stalking ground is an all-mod-cons home that is the des res of any aspirant American. Of course, drones are home wreckers, regularly deployed by the US military to help remotely surveille, maim and kill targeted families in wars overseas – Rubin just finds a way of taking what they do abroad, and bringing it right back into the local, domestic sphere.
Typically horror films close with a hint that the evil may not quite have been vanquished, leaving the door open to any number of further sequels. Hilariously, Rubin’s film achieves this effect merely by ending as it began: with yet another drone shot.
The Drone was seen and reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2019.