Ah, the anthology and the found footage film – two of horror’s darling formats. The anthology became popular because it gives filmmakers a chance to band together and weave a quilt of horror that allows for creative experimentation without the financial risk of a feature. The found footage film boomed (though perhaps is currently falling out of favor) because of its ability to put audiences inside the action, and its minimalist style allowing for scares on a low budget. What you don’t see – or what you THINK you see – is almost scarier than what you DO see.
THE DARK TAPES is a found footage anthology, and while it’s not the first of its kind, it brings a lot of energy to the table. Its themes run the gamut of spirits, demons, serial killers, ghouls, aliens and other dimensions. There’s a lot to like for horror fans, but you either love, hate, or tolerate found footage, and if you’re not into the format, there’s little here to win you over.
Yes, THE DARK TAPES, plays somewhat like the genre’s greatest hits, with night vision sequences, strange sounds, seances, creepy little girls, and even that low bass rumble from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. It does all of this with some creative twists of its own, so don’t let its derivativeness put you off completely.
The film is made up of four segments, or “tapes”, with the first being a wraparound story that is interwoven throughout the others, even though there is no discernible link between them. The wraparound concerns a team of physicists-cum-theologians searching for a demon through sleep study. The second segment is a cleverly twisted Ghost Hunters-style story. The third is about a couple of cam girls with something to hide, and the last seeks to find out why its protagonist has suddenly gained telekinetic powers. These may be rather vague summaries, but since the sequences are short, it’s best that I don’t say too much about them for fear of spoiling the surprises.
The first three segments are helped by their brevity, but the final story gets bogged down in long-winded dialogue and never really comes together. There seems to be an unwritten law stating that all anthologies must have a weakest link, so it’s not too much of a surprise that one of these doesn’t work as intended. The editing scissors could tighten the segment up a little bit, especially since the overall runtime (105 minutes) is more generous than most films of this kind.
The quality of the dialogue and performances throughout all segments varies wildly, with some really strong, convincing moments, but others being sadly far less than that.
THE DARK TAPES is clearly inspired by the success of other recent found footage anthologies, and the filmmakers themselves have admitted as much. It plays like a lower-rent version of V/H/S, and that’s saying something since that was kinda low-rent to begin with, but what it lacks in budget, it makes up for in clever moments and some well executed make-up effects.
I should clarify that the review copy I’m covering had a disclaimer stating the visual effects were incomplete, but what was there worked well enough to get the point across. I only wish they’d been a little more frugal when showing us some of the creatures, as the effectiveness is diminished towards the end. As I said earlier, what you don’t see is always scarier.
This is a commendable effort though, and I look forward to seeing what these guys will do in the future. THE DARK TAPES has already amassed a hoard of awards from several different film festivals. Keep an eye on Vincent J. Guastini and Michael McQuown.