A murdered African-American youth and a police cover-up drive Malik Vitthal’s “Body Cam,” a supernatural revenge fantasy that is anything but subtle. Its timeliness, however, is undeniable: With the investigations into the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery currently making news, this awkward hybrid of horror and social consciousness plucks at one of our country’s rawest nerves.
Holding this wobbly project together is the reliable Mary J. Blige as Renee, a straight-arrow L.A.P.D. officer still fragile after losing her son in a swimming-pool accident. Investigating the violent death of a colleague during a routine traffic stop, Renee follows clues to a mysterious figure (Anika Noni Rose) who appears in found footage at more than one crime scene. Strangely, Renee is the only person able to view this footage — and the twitching shadow-creature it reveals — before it disappears. The grisly remains of the creature’s victims, though, are visible to everyone.
Murky to the max, “Body Cam” plays out in darkened streets and inky interiors, the relentless gloom straining our eyes and comprehension. The pacing is atrocious: A creeping search of a filthy apartment yields little but flying roaches and creaking floorboards — and a reminder of how much more terrifying a scene like this could be in the hands of David Fincher. Despite the ripeness and flammability of its material, the movie feels oddly distant, the screenplay marred by weak scares, graceless plotting and dashed-off characters. There are two bereaved women at the heart of this story, but the filmmakers, laser-focused on giving rage physical form, fail to connect us to the grief it springs from.
Rated R for blood and brutality. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Amazon, Google Play and other digital platforms.