Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Dark Tapes (2017): Movie Review

I'm a sucker for found footage horror. Let me clarify; I immerse myself in each film under the umbrella (provided the acting and chemistry is a strength) and the story that unravels. Most are effective at creating the illusion that what you're witnessing is a reality. Of course we know it isn't. I even forgive the concept of fear never overriding the compulsion to pick up the camera and keep recording. Kevin Wetmore in Post-9/11 Horror In American Cinema spends a lot of time discussing the bridge between the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and the rise in popularity of "the pseudo-documentary as horror film." Some eye witness accounts from NYC that day confessed to their own impulse to grab a visual recording device. The whole idea of documenting terror is something not as uncommon as an audience might imagine.

This sub-genre as a result has been used by mainstream and independent filmmakers alike steadily in the years that followed. It is that terrifying and insatiable need to be the historian of the horrific events in front of us which has suckered me into never tiring of the filmmaking technique. I'm thoroughly spooked and have fun with work like Paranormal Activity (2007), Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon (2006), REC (2007), V/H/S 2 (2013), and Grave Encounters (2011). The Dark Tapes (2017), one of the latest in the arsenal written and directed by Michael McQuown has an ambition that'll awaken anyone from the fatigue that found footage has experienced in the last few years.

The Dark Tapes operates as a horror anthology opening with its wraparound ("To Catch A Demon"), an active story in itself where Professor Martin Calhan (David Rountree) and his doctoral student/teaching assistant Nicole (Cortney Palm) promotes some sort of connective scientific theory from three sets of video diaries (segments). "The Hunters & The Hunted" appears to be a simple case of a malevolent spirit plaguing an affluent couple, "Cam Girls" is more than just an online honeypot for lonely guys, and "Amanda's Revenge" is the one most directly tied to the initial proposal of what the wraparound story is trying to accomplish. Think of the darkest X-Files episodes that shook you and go deeper.

Katherine Shaw plays Ashley in "Amanda's Revenge"
The Dark Tapes puts a tremendous amount of effort into creating a space for itself within the found footage canon as a standout, successfully using highly familiar nods in the macabre while giving an audience something intriguingly original. But its definitive mythos requires almost too much observation. It may be difficult to fully grasp with little to no knowledge of it before viewing which I feel is a detriment to The Dark Tapes as a whole. It's not easy to follow if you don't know what you're looking for to bring the collection of the stories together. It's a bit frustrating as someone who overthinks everything not to see all of the strands tangle and meet. There are incidents that happen in some stories that make very little sense in the overall direction of the segment. Additionally, the misfortune of lackluster acting didn't make for memorable characters you could cling to.

However, I would be remiss if I don't emphasize that there is fun and insight to the experience. The Dark Tapes is chilling with an unmerciful bleakness that cleverly congeals horror and sci-fi with some jestful takeaways to share amongst friends about any experimental dabbles into the unknown. Regardless of some of the film's assumed weaknesses, it does have a rewatachability pulse within. The Dark Tapes is never one note, far from boring, and does some interesting things with creature effects, editing, and is aware of its own place in time as technology becomes smaller and quality becomes sleeker. McQuown even uses antiquated devices in a useful manner in the world he created.

My die hard optimism for found footage kept The Dark Tapes afloat. Even the most dubious about where it stands today in cinema should give this one a shot. I know, it may look like a dance here with my overall impression but I have to admit, that's the allure of this film as a whole. While much of my issues with it are essentially subjective, there's no doubt that The Dark Tapes is on the spectrum of special.

The Dark Tapes is now available:

iTunes, Vimeo, Google Play, Vudu, iNDemand, Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity, Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV

Outside the US? 

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