Short "camcorder horror" film explores memory, trauma, and loss

Here's a weirdly disturbing 10-minute film in the genre of "camcorder horror" or found footage horror, entitled "Teaching Jake about the Camcorder, Jan '97." It was written and directed by Brian David Gilbert, who also stars in the film. 

The film shows a father teaching his son to use a camcorder, while the son is filming him. The son accidentally shakes the camcorder, zooms in and out unnecessarily, and has trouble keeping the dad in focus and centered. The film then stops and rewinds, and the same scene is played out several times. But each time the film rewinds and starts again, the scene is slightly different than the one we just saw. In a few of the scenes we see an ominous black figure appear in the room. And at times we see the father speaking to the son in the present-day, addressing him as an adult, as if he's an apparition somehow trapped in the camcorder, or in the film, or on the television where the film is being watched. 

Robert J. Gannon of Sketching Details reviews the film:

"Teaching Jake about the Camcorder, Jan '97" is the real deal. It is a simple idea executed to perfection. A father is teaching his son, Jake, how to use a camcorder. He's really proud of him, calling out for his partner to come see how well he's doing. He offers him some tips along the way. The video ends with the camcorder falling out of Jake's hands. Then someone rewinds the tape and we watch it again and again.

He goes on:

"Teaching Jake about the Camcorder, Jan '97" left me with a feeling of dread straight away and I still don't know why. It's not just the video in frame. You're watching the video from the first person perspective of whoever is playing it. The small TV, VHS player, a wall, and a door are always in frame. A hand reaches out to press play or rewind every time the video shifts. 

Small things change on each replay. The first thing to change is a moment with the zoom. Jake presses the wrong button, zooming in super close on his father's chest. The second time we see it, it zooms into his father's neck. Other small details change each time. We're being set up to look for changes in what appears on the tape, slowly losing track of what changed from the first viewing. We watch history rewrite itself in real time and can't stop it.

The film is ambiguous—was the father kidnapped by the dark figure? Did the father die? Did the father abandon the son? We don't really know the details. But in general, the film is about grief and the difficulty of processing loss. Rob Dean of Neon Splatter describes the film as a "bizarre, funny, touching short film offering a glimpse into love and loss and warped realities via the marvel of a 1997 camcorder." If you want to read more about the film or dive into more theories about its meaning, here's a discussion about it on Reddit. I'd love to know what y'all think!