Phoenix Film Festival 2016 – Review: The Dark Tapes

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If your first thought when you read the synopsis, as it was mine, was “that sounds a lot like V/H/S.” You’re right. In fact, the director is quick to point out that that was the direct influence for The Dark Tapes. I’m not a huge fan of the found footage style of film making, but I’ll still watch one if the movie looks interesting, and there a few that stand out as being innovative. I also happen to really like the V/H/S movies. There are some weak episodes within the entries, but for the most part I really look forward to new entries. What sets The Dark Tapes apart from V/H/S is the lack of connecting tissue (which isn’t a knock on the flick), and it’s all directed by one person. Each segment is divided into so-called “Dark Tapes,” duh, that are purported to be “found,” yet we never see their discovery, but in any case, let’s take a look at each entry.

I said before that there is no connective tissue, but the first dark tape is split up and revealed throughout the movie in between each segment. It depicts a science experiment trying to capture the shadow figures sufferers of night terrors claim to see. On that subject, if you’ve never seen the documentary The Nightmare, I suggest you stop what you’re doing and go watch it. Back? Ok. The experiment posits that these creatures are real and are from a different dimension that flies by exponentially faster than ours. The segment goes to great length to throw a bunch of science info at you (which I’ll talk about later) to try to explain these beings. Once they finally catch the being on camera that’s when it really kicks into high gear. What I liked most about it was the world building and backstory. They kept mentioning something worse than what was terrorizing them in the room and that it was on its way from somewhere in the universe. I want to see a comic or something diving deeper into that.

The second segment was a type of Paranormal Activity, uh, rip off. It basically crammed an entire Paranormal Activity movie, with a slight twist, into about 12 minutes and with the same result. I like the PA movies, but their biggest flaws are their down times. There is a lot of time where absolutely nothing happens. Of course, that’s where they get their tension from, but sometimes that’s tedious. The segment itself built itself up into a fresh twist, but at the same time I wanted something a bit scarier.

Dark tape #3 is told exclusively through webcams and chat rooms. A couple of girls, who we later learn are possessed by some demonic force, run a web cam business that the use to find their victims. This one takes a long time to finally get to the goods. There are teases and truly unnerving moments, but in the end it falls flat after such a journey.

The final dark tape is about what I think are aliens, but they look like demons. It starts at a college party where the main character is ruffied and almost raped, but that has nothing to do with the other events of the tape. After said event she starts experiencing weird phenomenon when she sleeps. After she fails to capture these events on tape through more modern techniques she finally films them on an old 8mm film camera. This is a pretty solid entry, minus the unnecessary rape scene and the weird Star Trek villain demon/aliens. It does an excellent job of hiding the goods until the very end, while keeping me wondering what was truly going on. I also enjoyed the mix of video camera and web cam footage style.

I was excited for this one because of my love of V/H/S, until the director got up and spoke before the movie. As I mentioned he said that he had had the inspiration for The Dark Tapes after watching V/H/S, which is obvious and I thought it was cool that he was owning it. Then he mentioned that he felt the movie was made for 22 year olds. Now I may be looking too far into this, but it felt insulting. The segments in V/H/S are directed by some of the most respected and talented horror directors out there. His implied insult became very apparent during the first segment when the chief scientist is explaining the time dilation of the shadow entities. Then you have a segment where women seduce men in chat rooms with the promise of sex? Come on, man, don’t talk down to me like that. So the problem then becomes The Dark Tapes is really good. It’s well written, like really well. Well directed. Well acted. Well shot. The effects are great and used sparingly when the, most likely, low budget could have made itself apparent. If he hadn’t made those comments I would’ve had a better time during this movie. In the end though, I will suggest removing the artist from the art and checking this out. If you like V/H/S, you’ll love The Dark Tapes.

UPDATE: This is an edited version of the original review. I initially had some qualms during the screening, but after speaking to the director everything has been settled and I wish him, the crew, and the film the best of luck.

UPDATE 2: As stated above I had initially edited this article and the request of the filmmaker. After some thinking I felt that editing my review based on his wished goes against things that I believe in. The article you read above is the article in its intended form. This is still a great movie and I still wish it, and the filmmakers the best of luck.

 

 

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Jim Lincoln (The Film Department)

A man of mystery and power, whose power is exceeded only by his mystery. Writer of things. Watcher of stuff. Quoter of movies. Master of puppets.

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