Grief itself is a ghost. A relic from the past that finds ways to haunt us wherever we go. It also proves to be the biggest villain in Body Cam, a supernatural thriller that attempts to provide scares as well as insightful commentary about the nature of police brutality. However, the movie’s undercooked commentary becomes overshadowed by its desire to become a simultaneous ghost story and intricate character study.
Body Cam follows the story of veteran LAPD officer Renee Lomito-Smith (Mary J. Blige) who returns to active duty after dealing with a personal tragedy and taking a leave of absence due to a rough workplace occurrence. While on duty with her rookie partner Danny (Nat Woolf), Renee sees video footage of her colleague getting killed by a mysterious entity. Renee then decides to uncover what the entity is as it picks off her fellow officers who’re connected to the murder of an innocent black youth.
As the picture balances being both a frightfest and a character drama, it succeeds more as the latter than the former. It succumbs to being a standard slice-and-dice pic with the scenes of the villainous entity hunting its victims being dragged down by too much buildup to the anticipated big scares and near lack of lighting that makes it hard to know what’s going on in those moments. That being said, the opening sequence which features the death of Renee’s colleague effectively sets the tone for the entire picture. Its night time setting is where the cinematography by Pedro Luque, that always engulfs our characters in shadow, is put to expert use.
In addition, the one plot point where the blend of horror and gravitas successfully goes hand in hand involves Renee both literally and figuratively chasing old ghosts. Part of her need to solve the case stems from simply wanting to get the job done, but without giving too much away, it also comes from seeking some kind of justice for the aforementioned tragedy that Renee has dealt with.
Renee’s trauma and slight distrust towards those around her force her to create a steely reserve that is showcased wonderfully by Mary J. Blige. As Renee confronts her tragic past and relives the emotional scars it left her, Blige plays her in an unsentimental, nonchalant manner. Blige’s sorrowful eyes show Renee’s continuous heartbreak while her impassive line readings indicate Renee’s urgent need to move on. Nat Woolf is also terrific as Danny, showing his uneasiness over being wrapped up in Renee’s pursuit, but it’s mainly the Blige show and she does pretty exemplary work.
Blige helps provide Body Cam with the solemnity that it successfully aims for. Whenever it aims to be a chilling ghost story, it doesn’t always work due to a lack of fright and tension, but the picture still thrives as an exercise in grief and trauma with horror elements upholding the drama at hand.