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Dagr (2024) – A Darkly Clever Found-Footage Film 

Fueled by a spirited cast and skillful direction, Dagr is one of the cleverest found-footage horror movies I’ve ever watched.

Directed by Matthew Butler-Hart, the 2024 British film stars Riz Moritz and Ellie Duckles as two social media stars named Louise and Thea who host a popular prank show titled “They Deserve It and If They Don’t Fuck It Anyway!” For their latest prank, the free-wheeling women plan to pose as a catering staff on a lifestyle/fashion commercial shoot location in Wales. Their mission is to film themselves stealing the ad crew’s expensive equipment and merchandise and post it on their YouTube channel. Moritz plays the more cautious Louise, while Duckles portrays the less inhibited Thea. 

When the women arrive at the location of the commercial shoot, all the crew’s clothing and equipment are there, but the crew members are absent. The duo notices a smear of blood on one of the doorways, but nothing else is out of order. Undaunted, Louise and Thea set up hidden cameras in the house and on the property to chronicle the raid for their YouTube viewers. 

Then, at the halfway point of its 76-minute runtime, Dagr hits its pivotal moment as the women find the commercial crew’s laptop and start watching scenes from the shoot. One of the scenes is quite shocking. After viewing it, Louise is frightened and wants to leave, but Thea thinks the commercial crew is playing its own game. 

“They’re pranking us,” she tells Louise. “They’ve seen our show, and now they’re trying to teach us a lesson.” 

However, there may be darker forces at work. Thea searches the house to find the ad team, while Louise hangs back and watches more laptop footage. From there, the intensity increases exponentially, and the supernatural horror truly begins. But is it all as it seems?

Writer/director Matthew Butler-Hart checks the monitor during filming of his movie Dagr
Writer/director Matthew Butler-Hart checks the monitor during filming of his movie Dagr.

Dagr – Inspired by Classics

The genius of Dagr is how director Butler-Hart plays with audience expectations, essentially creating two found-footage films in the same movie. In one film, Louise and Thea are in their own Blair Witch Project, while in the other, the commercial crew is experiencing its own Paranormal Activity. It’s such a clever premise that I could only tip my hat out of respect to the writers for thinking of it. The found-footage genre is filled with more hits than misses, and you can read 6 Essential Found Footage Horror Films to learn about some of the best.

In an exclusive interview for MalevolentDark.com, Butler-Hart explains how two classic found-footage films along with Ghostwatch inspired Dagr. 

“I’ve loved Blair Witch since it scared the pants off me in the cinema in 1999, and we wanted to have some very obvious references to it in the film, more as a thank-you to the filmmakers of BW than anything else,” Butler-Hart says. “Yes, there’s a bit of Paranormal Activity in there, too, but I also wanted to reference a BBC TV film called Ghostwatch made in 1992, which was huge in the UK when it came out. No one had seen anything like it at that point, and as a 12-year-old it made a huge impact on me, so we have some nods to that too. My brother plays Gray in Dagr, and you still can’t talk about Ghostwatch around him. He turns white as a ghost! We actually spoke to Jed Shepherd, co-writer and producer of found-footage films Host and Dashcam, and he said that as this was our first found-footage film, we should stick to the Blair Witch template as there are very specific rules that apply to these films, which just don’t exist in a conventional film.” 

Like many found-footage films, Dagr was shot on a low budget and an extremely tight schedule. 

“We had eight and a half days to shoot it all, so we had to work fast,” Butler-Hart says. “The location is actually an Airbnb rentable house, and there was only a two-week window that we were allowed to shoot in. It’s in Brecon, Wales, just near the beautiful Brecon Beacons – so quite remote. We actually stayed in the house that we were filming in, which was actually quite spooky in itself, but it saved us money and time!” 

Dagr (2024) - Riz Moritz plays Louise, a social media celebrity prankster who learns some pranks can be terrifying and dangerous.
Riz Moritz plays Louise, a social media celebrity prankster who learns some pranks can be terrifying and dangerous.

‘I Love to Learn’

After directing a handful of conventional movies over the past decade, Butler-Hart decided to tackle the challenge of a found-footage film. He effectively used various methods of the format, like mirrors and hidden cameras, to ground his movie in reality while conveying spontaneity. 

“I know a few directors who have said they’d never make one because it’s just so very different to how you’d shoot normally,” Butler-Hart says. “But I love to learn as a director, and you learn most by doing what scares you! I like to plan every piece of visual storytelling very precisely, including how a camera moves, or even how a look from an actor might tell us something hidden, that only the audience sees, for example.  With this genre, the actors are the ones filming, so I had to teach them what I needed, or thought I did, but then I had to learn to trust that what they filmed would work for our story. And our script was very much just a blueprint, which it always is anyway, and very much not the final product. I encouraged the actors to make all the lines their own, so there was a lot of improvisation, meaning again I had to learn to trust that what we were getting would work in the edit. We wanted to give ourselves a lot of space to play with, hence lots of cameras, so that we could play with pace and rhythm, which would have been much harder if we’d just had one or two cameras. The mirrors were partly to show that it was always the characters filming, and that we weren’t tricking the audience.” 

Dagr (2024) - Ellie Duckles, left, and Riz Moritz portray a pair of social media celebrities who perform pranks for their YouTube channel.
Ellie Duckles, left, and Riz Moritz portray a pair of social media celebrities who perform pranks for their YouTube channel.

Actresses set tone

Moritz and Duckles perfectly portray their roles as annoyingly self-important Gen Z crusaders with enough likability to root for their cause. Without that balance, Dagr could’ve fallen flat because the film spends almost all of the first half-hour riding on a road trip with the women.

“Oh, if these two hadn’t gotten what we were after for their characters, then I think we would have been in trouble,” Butler-Hart says. “Setting the quirky tone of the film, taking us on their journey and making us care about them was the top of my list of important elements to the film.” 

Butler-Hart, who also co-wrote the film with Graham Butler and Tori Butler-Hart, admits Dagr could have gone in so many directions. Tori and Graham also acted in the film as key players on the commercial crew. In fact, Tori delivers the most terrifying moment of the movie during an intense 90-second sequence while filming herself in closeup. It’s scream-queen level acting as every movement of her eyes and face combine with every breath and cry to emanate profound fear.

“Tori and I wrote quite a few different versions of what this story could be, some completely different to what we ended up with,” Butler-Hart says. “But we always wanted to have that element in the film: Is any of it real? So, we knew we needed at least two storylines running, so that we could keep the audience on their toes, which made it much more complicated to film! It’s partly why we wanted to make the commercial team a bit ambiguous, too, so that we would wonder if they were genuine or part of something else.” 

Presented by Fizz and Ginger Films, Dagr is available on Amazon Prime in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the movie is on iTunes, Amazon, SkyStore, Rakuten, Google Play and Microsoft.

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