Josiah Wisper (Christian Barber) is a young and successful businessman. He owns a few bars in Harlem. He owns a few New York apartment building and, to his tenants, he’s a familiar site, walking up and down the hallways and making sure that everyone has paid their rent. He and his family have a nice, big house in New Jersey where, not insignificantly, they’re the only black family living in the neighborhood. Josiah is brash and confident and so sure of his future that he’s even hired a videographer to record every aspect of his life. Everywhere he goes, she follows and films.
She films him when he’s at his bar, kicking out a drug dealer. She films him while he’s collecting rent. She films when he’s talking to his parents. She films him when he’s flirting with his mistress. She even films him the night that he returns to New Jersey and discovers that his entire family has been shot to death. She continues to film as Wisper is interrogated by the police, shunned by his neighbors, and finally forced to investigate the murder on his own.
Usually, found footage films get on my last nerve and I have to admit that I was a little bit concerned when American Wisper began with Wisper talking to the camera. However, American Wisper actually makes fairly good use of the gimmick. There’s no shortage of people in the film who are willing to point out how strange it is that Wisper is allowing all of this to be filmed. In fact, once people start to suspect that Wisper committed the murder, many of them specifically claim that his obsession with being filmed proves that there’s something off about him. It’s held up as evidence that Wisper is a narcissist who only cares about himself. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t necessarily dismiss that possibility. As played by Christian Barber, Wisper does come across as a man who is happy to be living in a movie. When we first see him, he’s presiding over his bar and you can tell that he’s a man who loves being the center of attention. Even after the murders, Wisper still often seems to be playing up to the camera, leaving you wondering if maybe it’s possible that there is something that he’s not being honest about. It creates a genuine feel of suspense, which is more than can be said for most found footage films.
I liked American Wisper. It’s a low-budget film, made for under $500,000, but it makes good use of that low budget. When Wisper drives through New York or into New Jersey, he’s not visiting an elaborate Hollywood sound stage. Instead, he’s actually walking down those streets and driving down those roads and it brings an authenticity to the film that it might have lacked with a bigger budget or a more elaborate production. Some of the actors are a bit more convincing than others but Christian Barber does an excellent job in the lead role, making Wisper into a character with whom you sympathize despite his flaws. American Wisper is a murder mystery that’s about more than just a crime. It’s also an examination of race, upward mobility, and fame in America.
American Wisper can currently be viewed on Prime.