Found footage, as made popular by the 1999 movie The Blair Witch Project, is no substitute for imagination and shallowly attempts to represent reality. Yet here we go again, this time with the so-called innovation of Her Story from developer Sam Barlow. Despite the addictiveness of a Google-like search for murder clues, neither the artificial screen glare nor actress Viva Seifert’s performance lend credibility to Her Story’s lady-psychopath clichés.
With a police database of interrogation footage at your fingertips, you type a word or phrase into a search bar to examine clips in which the word or phrase appears. Although you can only access the first five search results, this limitation merely delays the inevitable uncovering of names, objects, and expressions that will lead you to new video and insight. Barlow intends to shock with demented considerations of duality, bringing to mind director Christopher Nolan’s parlor trick in The Prestige. But from the beginning, it’s fairly obvious there’s something fishy about Seifert’s character and her role in the murder of husband Simon. Her Story would have been more of a mystery if it had multiple suspects, because within a couple of hours the purpose behind the narrow possibilities becomes clear.
Seifert’s presence as a performer can’t save the emptiness of Barlow’s inhumane portrait of a woman. Not only does Her Story’s improbable, laughable case of jealousy play off the overused “crazy bitch” trope, the story scrambles to maintain interest with Easter eggs like guitar playing and a coffee spill. These goofy excerpts speak to the challenge of being patient with a mundane camera perspective for an illusion of realism and to the rigid paradigm of achievements in gaming.
As unique as Her Story might initially seem, it’s as desperate as any pop video game to resemble a cheap movie or television show. Rather than reflect and articulate the insecurities of human existence, Barlow’s tale works best as a showcase for a provocative interface. Eventually you’ll be prompted by an instant chat message in Her Story, and if you say you’re done with your investigation, the next message will ask if you understand why Seifert’s character did what she did. It’s too bad you can only enter “yes” or “no” without an explanation. A cathartic response could have been: “Yes, I can clearly see the influence of phony-baloney crime and horror fiction from other audiovisual art forms right here.”