Brief synopsis: When Tyler (Davi Santos) finds an old Polaroid Instamatic camera whilst clearing a house for the antique store at, he gives it to Bird (Kathryn Prescott) who also works at the same store and is an avid photographer. A shy loner, Bird is persuaded to go a party by her friend Kasey (Samantha Logan), because one of the high school boys who Bird fancies, Connor (Tyler Young) will be there.
Bird takes the old camera along to the party and takes photos with it. Shortly after the party, students start dying.
Is it any good?: Afforded a measly five-point one on IMDB, Polaroid is actually better than the opening of the film promises. It starts off with a pretty pointless scene that has very little bearing on the rest of the film but once that is out of the way, the film builds nicely to a satisfying conclusion and, thankfully, leaves no room for an unnecessary sequel. Better the usual fare on Netflix and worth a look.
Spoiler territory: Sarah (Madeline Petsch) is with a friend, Linda (Erika Prevost) looking through her late mother’s belongings. She finds an old Polaroid camera. Linda receives a ‘like’ on a picture she has posted to social media from ‘Craig’. She is mildly apologetic towards Sarah but also points out that she might have received the same response if she was more relaxed and took pictures.
Sarah tells her she wants to send him a picture but wants it to be more personal. She has Linda take a photo of her with the Polaroid camera. As they wait for the photo to develop, Linda receives a text and says she has to go.
Alone in the house, Sarah hears noises. The camera starts buzzing and humming. She searches around the house and hears breathing. A frightened Sarah keeps looking around. She gets grabbed by an unseen entity and is killed.
Sometime later, it is high-school photo day at Locust Harbour high school. A less than enthused Bird has her photo taken for the yearbook. The photographer asks if she wants to remove her scarf, Bird declines. The other students call her scarf girl. Bird leaves the school and spots Connor talking to friends as she goes to get on her bike. She takes out a digital camera to take a photo of him but gets nervous and decides not to when he looks her way.
She heads to the local antique store where she works part-time. Tyler, who also works there, brings in a box of items from a house clearance he has done. He tells Bird that he has something for her. He shows her the Polaroid camera. An excited Bird starts to mess about with the camera and takes a picture of Tyler. He tries to kiss her but Bird does not feel the same way and rejects his advances.
Bird heads home. At home, her mother (Shauna MacDonald) is getting ready to go to work. She leaves her daughter and Bird goes back to meeting about with the camera. Bird talks to her dog as she plays with the camera, wanting to take a picture of the mutt but the dog is wary of the camera and backs away.
Before Bird can take a picture, she is interrupted by Kasey. Kasey and Bird discuss their college decisions, with Bird determined to follow her late father’s footsteps into journalism and Kasey going away to college to get away from her family narrow-minded view on her sexual preferences.
Kasey persuades a somewhat reluctant Bird to attend Avery’s (Katie Stevens) end of year costume party. She tells her Connor will be there. Bird agrees to go. Later, Kasey and Bird join the playfully bickering couple, Mina (Priscilla Quintana) and Devin (Keenan Tracey) and head to the party.
In the antique store, Tyler is looking at an old slide projector. As he goes through the pictures he sees a strange, humanoid shadow. It disappears when he checks back but then reappears as he looks again. A weary Tyler picks up a hammer, certain that there is someone behind the projector screen.
There is nothing there. He checks the projector again. Hearing a noise behind him, he turns to see the entity (Javier Botet). Tyler screams. At the party, Kasey implores Bird not to be her normal loner self and to mix with people. Bird reverts to type and stands alone watching the party happen around her.
Connor approaches Bird at the party. As they are chatting, he asks her about the camera, noticing it in her bag. Mina and Devin come up as they are chatting. They want to take a photo together but Bird does not want to be in the photo and says she will take the photo with her Polaroid. As she is about to take the photo, Kasey jumps into the photo.
Avery comes up just after the photo op and notes that she had not been invited to the photo opportunity. She takes a picture of herself with the Polaroid. As the picture is developing, there is a knock at the door. The police have come. They are looking for Bird. She goes down to the police station and meets sheriff Pembroke (Mitch Pileggi). He tells her that Tyler is dead.
Back home, a mourning Bird looks at the photographs taken by the Polaroid camera. She sees a worrying shadow, the entity, in the photo of Avery. Avery, home alone, hears noises around her house. Avery gets killed by the entity.
The next morning, Bird gets a call from Kasey telling her that Avery is dead. Bird goes back to the photographs. The entity is no longer in the photo of Avery. It has moved into the group photo. She tries to break the camera but it repels her. Bird is sure that the camera is the cause.
She sees Devin, Mina and Kasey and goes to explain her theory to them, showing them the group photo with the entity in it. Connor comes over to the table as she is talking to them. She tells them she saw the shadow in Tyler’s photo and then in Avery’s. Mina is sceptical. Devin too shows scepticism. Bird is convinced that they are in danger.
Devin says if she is that worried they should get rid of the photo. He sets the picture on fire. As the photo burns, the fire gets to Mina’s arm in the photo first. In the canteen, Mina’s arm catches fire. As Devin tries to put out the fire on his girlfriend, Bird realises that she has to put out the fire on the photograph.
They take Mina to hospital. Bird and Connor go to the antique store. Bird wants to find the case that the camera was in. Whilst in the store retrieving the case, she is chased by the entity but it is deterred when it comes into contact with a heat source. Meanwhile, Connor, who had been waiting outside the store, notices that Bird is actually in the photograph as well, having been caught a reflection.
At the hospital, a recovering Mina is told by Devin that her parents are travelling back to see her. He leaves her to go and get a nurse. Mina gets killed by the entity. Devin blames Bird. A guilty Bird leaves the group and goes off crying. Connor finds Bird. She tells him that she feels responsible for her father’s death because he had an accident when she didn’t want to go on a trip with him.
Connor and Bird investigate the camera’s origins. They find out that it belonged to a notorious child murderer, Roland Joseph Sable (Rhys Bevan John). He killed three high school children all of who went to Locust Harbour. They go and see Devin and Kasey and tell them about their findings. A still-grieving Devin gets into an altercation with Connor when he accidentally takes a photo of him with the camera.
Devin gets arrested for assault when he hits a policeman trying to calm the situation down, at the sheriff’s office, Bird and Connor try to explain the situation to Pembroke. They tell him about the camera’s history and the old Sable murders. Pembroke shuts them down, warning them not to pursue the matter. Devin remains locked up in a cell.
Connor and Bird find out that Sable’s wife, Lena (Grace Zabriskie), is still living in the town and go and see her. She tells them that he only killed the children because they had bullied his, their, daughter, Rebecca (Emily Power), and that had made her commit suicide. He has wanted to make the children suffer how his daughter had.
Devin gets killed in the sheriff’s office. Conner and Bird keep investigating. Sable’s widow had said there were four children but only three had been killed. They go back to their high school and look through high school yearbooks from the time and find out that Pembroke was the four children he was after. Kasey comes to the school to meet them. Pembroke finds them all at the school.
Bird threatens to take a picture of him, saying it is the only way to end the killings. She does not go through with it. Connor grabs the camera and takes a photo as Pembroke slaps the camera out of his hands. He tells them that it was actually Sable who tormented his daughter, taking inappropriate photos of her. They found out and he wanted them dead so as they would not expose him.
The photo of Pembroke develops. The entity appears, picking up the photo. Pembroke shoots at him but the entity tears the photo in half ripping Pembroke apart and killing him. The tree teens run. Connor gets separated from the girls and the entity goes after them. Kasey gets stabbed through the leg by the entity but manages to escape. Bird takes them both to the showers and puts them on full heat.
Connor finds them. Bird realises she needs to get to the camera. She and Connor go for the camera. Connor gets grabbed by the entity as they get to the camera. Bird takes a picture of herself to force the entity to come after her. The entity grabs her. She takes a picture of the entity and tries crushing it. It seems to work but as soon as she opens the photo, the entity uncurls, stalking her once more. She sets the photo on fire, killing the entity.
They take Kasey to the hospital. Bird throws the camera into the river. The end.
Polaroid is not a bad horror film at all. It takes a little while to get going and the opening scene, featuring perhaps the most recognisable face in the film in Riverdales’ Petsch, is utterly pointless. Prescott is great as the ridiculously monikered, shy loner, Bird and is brilliantly contrasted by Logan’s Kasey.
The idea of voodoo-like photos is a good one and, though not used in the extreme, works really well for the story. Once Bird makes the connection between the photographs and her friends’ deaths, the film gathers pace and finds some urgency.
With a competent screenplay by Blair Butler and ably helmed by Lars Klevberg, the only real complaint from a horror perspective is that the film does not commit to the horror, visually, enough. There is very little blood in Polaroid and the lighting for the film is so dark that one can barely see what is going on.
At eighty-eight minutes long, Polaroid is around the standard length of an inexpensive, teen, horror and, with a 15 rating here in the UK, goes for jump scares over gore. A better film than its IMDB score would have one think, Polaroid is worth a watch if you like a horror film.