‘Butterfly Kisses’ Captures the Compulsion to Create

July 19th, 2022 | By Ariel Powers-Schaub

Butterfly Kisses

Butterfly Kisses is a chilling found footage film and a mockumentary about found footage. The film follows three groups of characters: an aspiring filmmaker named Gavin (Seth Adam Kallick), who finds a pile of tapes in a basement, the documentary crew Gavin hires, and the student filmmakers — Sophia (Rachel Armiger) and Feldman (Reed DeLisle) — who created the tapes that Gavin finds. 

Sophia and Feldmen are filming their senior thesis about the local urban legend of Peeping Tom. The myth says that if you can keep your eyes open for one hour staring down a specific tunnel, Peeping Tom will appear and follow you. Every time you blink, he gets closer, until he eventually kills you. There is no evidence to prove Peeping Tom’s existence, because either people can’t keep their eyes open, or they supposedly died after doing so, which makes a perfect urban legend. 

Gavin is enthralled by this story, and he wants to finish the students’ film by compiling the tapes he found. He cannot find Sophia or Feldman, or even any record of their existence other than his tapes. He hires a documentary crew to follow his process of retracing the students’ footsteps. Gavin’s plan is to present a documentary about the reality of Peeping Tom, and he assumes his big break into the film industry will follow.

Butterfly Kisses makes for an excellent found footage film with some genuinely scary moments, so it can be enjoyed for what it is on the surface. But as a creator myself, I noticed something else in this story. Butterfly Kisses is a close look at the stresses of being a creative person, and the pressure to constantly create. Pressures can be internal, external, or a mix of both, but can all add up, and make creativity feel like a chore. 

Everyone in the film is motivated by different kinds of pressure. Sophia and Feldman are students, driven by the grade for their final project. They both want to be successful in school, and at one point, Feldman says to Sophia, “I need this A.” They are young and full of big dreams for their futures. They want to be professional filmmakers after they graduate, and they are consumed with their passion for the project. 

Something Butterfly Kisses leaves ambiguous is if Sophia and Feldman truly believe in Peeping Tom, or if they have put together a very convincing found footage horror movie. It’s eventually revealed that they added some staged footage to a previous documentary they made, to make the final product look more polished. This shows the audience that they are driven to be seen as successful, even if it means cheating. Their motivation is clear — they want to do whatever it takes to be filmmakers. This revelation makes their Peeping Tom documentary less credible. 

Gavin, on the other hand, is past the point of being a student. He mostly shoots weddings to pay the bills, but he hopes for a break in the film industry to do something more creative. He completely believes in the Peeping Tom story, and is distressed when he can’t find any traces of Sophia or Feldman. But instead of taking the tapes he found to the police and possibly helping with missing persons cases, he wants to present the final footage cut together as an entertaining documentary. Gavin has become cynical, and he’s grinning in the face of a potential tragedy. He sees the world as full of possibilities for content. 

Gavin takes advantage of the people around him, including his family, in hopes that the ends will justify the means. His wife and in-laws are financially and emotionally supporting him, but he spends all their savings without telling his wife. He is condescending to a ghost hunting group while at the same time hoping they investigate his footage and back him financially. When his pitch to the ghost hunters is not accepted, he throws a very public fit, destroying any future chances with the organization. 

Any creator knows rejection hurts, but professionalism is necessary. He then seeks collaboration with a production studio, trying to convince them helping him for free will be to their benefit when his documentary hits it big. He tries a couple of other avenues, such as interviewing an author and appearing on a radio show, but when everyone gently pushes back on him, he reacts with anger and embarrassment, making it less likely that people will ever want to help him. 

The documentary crew is the final link in the chain of creative people affected by this urban legend. It’s a crew of established, professional filmmakers. They are what Sophia, Feldman, and Gavin all hope to be. But they have not escaped external pressure. The documentarian we spend the most time with is Erik, played by the Butterfly Kisses director himself, Erik Kristopher Myers. The crew is hired by Gavin, and they have a professional obligation to the agreement they made with him. However, Erik begins to worry about Gavin. They notice his financial trouble and spot glaring problems in his marriage. They worry he’s taking the project too far and try to persuade him to give the tapes to the police.

Gavin stops responding, and Erik becomes concerned. Erik and the rest of the crew take it upon themselves to go looking, and they keep filming, since this is all part of Gavin’s story. Erik and his crew are creators, and there is pressure on them, too. First, the pressure of Gavin and the project they were hired for, then a more personal pressure when they start to worry for another human being. I won’t spoil what they find when they go looking. 

Making your hobby a job and relying on it to pay your bills is cumbersome. And it involves a lot of luck, as well as talent and connections, regardless of your chosen industry. When creativity is an enjoyable hobby, it can be easier to step away from it when it stops being fun, or when you need to focus on other things. But when your creativity is your only means of supporting yourself and your family, it can stop being fun, and becomes harder to push aside when a project is taking its toll on you. It’s easy to talk about self-care and work/life balance, if you can afford to. Butterfly Kisses is more than a scary found-footage movie — it’s also a thoughtful commentary for anyone who feels forced to create. 

Ariel Powers-Schaub

Ariel is a lifelong horror enthusiast from the American midwest. She will watch almost anything, but particularly loves found footage, slashers, and the SAW franchise.

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