Tuesday, 11 April 2017

The Dark Tapes (2017) - Horror Film Review

It seems crazy to think it was only last year that each time a found footage horror film dropped in my inbox I would recoil in fear, fear at the 90 minutes I would have to waste watching the (usually) boring movie. The genre felt irredeemable to me, each film a collection of dull day to day life sections and poorly lit shaky cam night sections, just recycling ideas to infinity. Yet award winning (nominated for over 60 awards over 30 different film festivals) indie film The Dark tapes is the fourth found footage horror I have seen in the past 6 months that has really impressed me (Be My Cat: A Film for Anne, A Guidebook to Killing Your Ex, and Capture Kill Release were the others). This is also the first ever found footage anthology film I have seen, a style of film that this type of horror seems perfect for.

There are four different short films contained within The Dark Tapes, each dealing with a slightly different theme, but all centring around the paranormal in some fashion. The wrap-around film is titled To Catch a Demon and has a university professor and a couple of his students using experiments with R.E.M sleep in order to try and capture footage of a demon. This was the most complex in terms of scientific descriptions, it was also really interesting. I have no idea if the facts stated here are real or not, but in terms of describing how people are able to see ghosts, and how time dilates when you are dreaming it was damn fascinating. The British horror show Urban Gothic (2000-1) had an episode where contestants of a game show were stalked and killed by the sandman while trying to stay awake during a multi-day challenge to be the last person touching a brand new car. This wrap around short totally explains that episode in a new light to me, being reminded of that episode was an unexpected bonus. There were some pretty messed up moments in this one that called to mind Silent Hill.

The first uninterrupted short is The Hunters and The Hunted and is like a microcosm of films like Paranormal Activity. It had a husband and wife experiencing strange goings on in the new house they had moved into, and so in desperation they call on the aid of some paranormal investigators. The Paranormal Activity films I cite as what really killed the found footage genre off for me and so I wasn't that pleased to see that type represented here. The short length though is a much better fit, there was no downtime and events escalated swiftly enough that I didn't mind too much, it all culminates in a twist that was something I hadn't seen before. Regardless of that though I didn't find this one the least bit frightening. What is good about all these films in general is that the usual utterly tedious filler stuffed into feature length found footage is all cut out here so that it is the horror that becomes the focus, rather than side lined to specific instances.

Cam Girls is the second proper short, this one was about a girl who contacts her best friend via web cam to tell him about these unexplainable black outs she keeps having. She puts on pornographic web cam shows with her girlfriend and it is during one of these shows that we, the viewer get to see just what happens when she has a black out. I loved the use of web cams in this one, it reminded me a bit of The Collingswood Story in the way it was filmed. There was great use of editing here to splice in often pretty unsettling images, ones that the two characters (a cam girl and a client) both noticed as they talked to each other, but also popped up whenever one of them happened to be looking away from the computer screen. My issue with this one is that I felt the pay-off was a bit silly which was a shame after the rest of it was so strong.

The last one is called Amanda's Revenge and follows the awakening of psychic powers a girl unlocks after being drugged and attacked by two guys at a party. This had some nice Sci-Fi elements to it, as well as a super creepy section that simulated Super-8 footage being used. It also did the thing of using footage at the start that is replayed near the end to provide a completely different meaning to it. I did not mind this one at all. This was well paced, and captivated my interest on just what was going on, even if I felt the psychic abilities part could have been left out without loosing anything from the overall piece. This one ends on a predictable finish, but one that I found to be satisfyingly fun despite that.

So all four films in The Dark Tapes have pro's and con's to them. While the four films seem to be unrelated to each other they thematically gel together very well with them all being variations on a similar topic. I used to really enjoy anthology films, I loved how varied the different shorts could be. The Dark Tapes is a strong example of a good one. This is genuinely creepy at times and has done enough here to make me a bit worried about having to go up to bed soon. The special effects used are all good enough to not be distracting, while the paranormal beings that appear in some of the shorts are made to look more effective than they probably are due to great use of editing and blurring effects. Most importantly I loved all the science behind some of them, especially To Catch a Demon, as I said it may well be trash the characters are talking but it sounds convincing. On that note usually you get some pretty awful acting in films of this type, yet here I can't recall a single bad actor. That isn't to say they all shine; they don't, but the acting is always a base level solid with a few actors elevating enough that they start to seem almost real.

The Dark Tapes is the final film I have seen to fully make me believe found footage is genuinely seeing a resurgence in decent ideas, and new ones at that. For any fan of horror anthologies of any type this is well worth a watch, the icing on the cake is that it is at times creepy as well, the kind of creepiness that makes you afraid to turn off the lights. The Dark Tapes is due out on a multitude of VOD platforms on 18th April, these include all the usual suspects such as Amazon, Vimeo and Google Play.


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