The Found-Footage Trend Meets the Somali-Pirate Trend in Default


Default has a pretty good point to make about the American media’s tendency to overlay a Western worldview on the plights of impoverished people in other countries. But it sacrifices its voice to the premeditated non-style of a first-person pseudo-documentary, a form that often has the paradoxical effect of making everything it shows us seem more fake than usual.

Absent the omniscient perspective of standard visual narrative, all the tricks actors learn at Juilliard or wherever just seem like affected tropes of acting. An American news crew is held hostage by a group of Somali pirates who hijack a chartered plane in the Seychelles; the tarmac standoff becomes a global news story as the reporters struggle to keep their captors from killing them, even as they cover the story and plot their escape.

The scourge of East African piracy meets the scourge of found-footage cinema. The pirate leader’s intentions are unclear at the outset, and he seems mostly interested in proving a philosophical point to the American correspondent he’s captured. One of the biggest problems with the faux-doc format is finding an excuse to keep the cameras rolling at all times.

Default resolves that issue at the outset: “Continue filming or you will be shot!” shouts the pirate leader, although the audience is never offered an explanation for why anyone was documenting a news crew boarding a plane in the first place. Director Simon Brand works hard at verisimilitude on the plane and in the film’s many intercut cable-news segments, but it’s hard to achieve realism in a mode that’s so completely contrived.