The Dark Tapes (2017) – Indie Movie Review

NOTE: The following review of The Dark Tapes (2017) will remain spoiler free, avoiding important plot points or twists in order for you to experience the movie how I did.

The Dark Tapes is an independent horror/sci-fi experience that swept the film festival circuit during 2016, reaping 61 wins and/or nominations from it’s 30 festival appearances. It’s a film that audiences through a series of different ‘tapes’ depicting gruesome events that transpired throughout 2015/2016 – tied back to an experiment-gone-wrong that took place back in 2007. Got that?

When The Dark Tapes begins, it burns slowly. From the discovery of a camera, two individuals then stumble upon a bloody experiment-esque setting, that looks to have had dropped into chaos at the some point. The footage found on the discovered camera is checked by the two bewildered characters, therefore throwing us into what happened on each tape and offering a grim insight into the events that had unfolded. I will admit this, when the film first began I did begin to have some doubts sink in. The first tape focuses on an experiment – which is returned to throughout, acting as the spine of this anthology – and the dialogue between the two characters performing these experiments seemed very expositional. It was necessary to explain what the experiment would entail, they were recording their experiment so this exposition did fit how the characters would deliver it, however the abundance of “scientific” terminology and experiment details went on for a little too long, almost causing me to lose interest in the story before it had the chance to properly begin.

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The Dark Tapes (2017)

Apart from this minor issue as the film was gearing up, I can thankfully say that my interest was retained and I did not write The Dark Tapes off. The slow burner approach separately applies to the rest of the tapes that are shown throughout the film – however these are executed much better, building up a tense, edge of your seat atmosphere that you begin to choke on until it climaxes and you are subjected to whatever each tape has in store for you (often being pretty gruesome or chilling, to say the least). The dialogue in general flows naturally throughout, plaudits to the actors and their direction for this. The vast majority of the performances through The Dark Tapes are good, strong performances that work brilliantly with the cinematography decisions to really draw you into the world that’s being presented on screen, feeling very real – and therefore achieving a very creepy, unnerving atmosphere – in the process. The performances of Cortney Palm and David Rountree in the second tape in particular are ones that made me forget that I was watching a film instead of actual found footage.

One of The Dark Tapes most valuable assets is director/writer Michael McQuown’s use of silence. It serves as an effective tool to build up tension and suspense in scenes, one scene in particular had me watching through my hands in anticipation for a character’s potential demise. It’s not the loud bangs or sudden noises you hear that make you on edge – it’s the eerie silences that you find yourself forgetting to breathe to that really do it. It’s this crippling appliance of silence, coupled with the natural dialogue and cinematography, that really absorbs you into these different scenarios. Throughout the film there is plenty of practical effects which are greatly appreciated, the gruesome events that occur make you wince as you watch it – but the film doesn’t rely on only this aspect alone to serve its audiences appetite, making those moments count as particular flashes during its intertwining tale that crosses in and out of many horror sub-genres.

The crafting of scenes bring about an unsettling caution, curiosity and suspense which in turn chills you to the bone and leaves you with a heavy, sinking in the pit of your stomach. As events unfold you find yourself not being able to do anything but watch, even as the rest of your body shudders.

One thing that pulled me out of the film on occasion was the distortion effect used throughout. I understand that this aesthetic choice works for a found footage film, however the effect was overused – taking me out of the experience and allowing me to notice occasional attempts to mask cuts to different takes, etc. Some of the CGI used throughout the film looks the part however there would also be occasional moments where it doesn’t look so particularly good either. Unfortunately, the demon entities which appears throughout lost their scare factor (for me, personally) once I heard their dialogue – but don’t worry, there isn’t much.

Out of all the tapes, I would claim that “Cam Girls” was probably the weakest tape of the anthology, or at least the first half of it. The acting and dialogue during the first half of this tape did not hold up to its counterparts – but the practical effect work that draws my praises did partly come from this tape.Poster_Demon_small

Despite occasional blips, I really did find myself shaken by the first two thirds of The Dark Tapes. Unfortunately it is a film that drops slightly in it’s final third – the quality of the edit drops as the film desperately works to fit everything in and bring it round to a whole. It gradually became hindered by its own ambition because that’s what this film is at the end of the day, an ambitious piece of cinema. The Dark Tapes opted for an intelligent take on the found footage subgenre, trying to take it one step further. The flaws that this movie has are minor ones, little moments, but unfortunately are ones that build up and bring me out of the film and, in turn, water down it’s own sense of horror that it does such a good job of consistently building up. The ambition and vision behind The Dark Tapes is such an applaudable trait of the entire crew, however this sometimes also streams into making the overall story convoluted. This film might have proved to be more effective as a collection of short films rather than one whole piece. However I am confident that if you give these filmmakers, who are obviously very passionate fans of the horror genre, a slightly higher budget to iron out some issues that they’ve had to compromise with on special effects and editing, they are certainly capable of creating a twisted, suspenseful chiller of a horror movie. I look forward to seeing what comes of them next!

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I recommend giving The Dark Tapes a viewing at least once, you may just love it!

It is released on Video On-Demand platforms worldwide on April 18th, the film will also be available on Google Play, Vudu, ONDemand (Comcast- Xfinity, Time Warner, Cox, Bright House & more), Dish TV, Amazon, Vubiquity (Verizon Fios, Charter, Sudden Link, Media Com & more), Xbox, Playstation, Sling TV & Vimeo.

You can purchase The Dark Tapes on iTunes at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/the-dark-tapes/id1212096983

 

 

The Shallows – (Spoiler Free) TEG Movie Reviews

 

Today I went to watch Blake Lively in The Shallows, a film that has managed to make more than five times its $17 million production budget at the box office, and is still viciously on the rise. Now, I don’t normally have good experiences with “shark films” because most of the films we encounter today focusing around the sealife predators tend to be disastrous B-movies that are just looking to make a quick buck with very little craft or effort put in, however I’m happy to say that The Shallows is NOT one of them movies.

I will be quick to stress that The Shallows is also not Steven Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster Jaws either, the competition that every single shark film will undeniably face, but it is good watch and here’s why…

Director Jaume Collet-Serra makes great use of the scenery of Australia’s Lord Howe Island with stunning shots of the beach, surfing and long, brooding drone shots over the (not so) deep blue where the shark lurks beneath – the film has a style to it that doesn’t fight to be seen but can be subtly felt enough so you appreciate it. Matching the scenic beauty is the story’s leading lady Blake Lively, whose performance in this really shows off her acting chops. I will admit that I was caught off guard here slightly because I don’t think I have watched any of her previous work, but I know I will surely keep an eye out for her future projects after this. When you have a film that is set in basically one singular location for the entire film, you really need strong performances to keep the audience entertained and the Shallows can be thankful to Blake Lively for delivering that.

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Blake Lively proves to have what it takes to carry a feature length isolated film on her own.

It was nice to see a protagonist these days (like Indiana Jones back in the original trilogy of films) actually suffering injuries and having to overcome difficult obstacles throughout a film as they come along instead of being able to just achieve anything they conveniently need to do so, and with this I felt that there was good creative ideas implemented into quite a lot of stand offs with the Great White too. Lively’s Nancy Adams shows brains, matched with courage, throughout and it’s a good job she does too because the slightest slip up can prove to be the end for her. Her injuries made me wince from time-to-time and these injuries, that can prove to be incapacitating at times, are what made me care about how her story ends against the predators circling her, and a befriended seagull with a broken wing, on the rocks.

When stand offs with the shark occur, after she’s developed one of many different plans, the tension builds and works very strongly throughout the second act. It builds well but doesn’t seem to rely on it’s soundtrack to do so, but silence instead. You gather the human vs nature aspect that the film explores and begin to feel a few more steps down from the top of the food chain us humans are used to.

Although I enjoyed this film it doesn’t come without it’s flaws of course…

We pick up bits and pieces as to what has sent Nancy to where she is through photographs, text messages and facetime calls to her phone throughout the first act of the film. I personally felt that this was a slightly lazy way to set up her back story and overall made me not feel for any of her connection to her family, I also felt no connection to her family as we had not seen her with them before the films events took place. If they were searching for extra running time, that would have been a good place to find it. I did care for Nancy, but it was because she was a fighter and also proved to be the underdog in the situation – not because of some paper thin backstory that had no real emotional weight behind it. Her father’s performance was also painful to watch and completely sucked me out of the film for the brief moments he was on facetime chat to Nancy. large_6vuxwCfBejPfUjMxrPgk0ANmVFq

You could feel that they were struggling to extend the running time of the already 86 minutes film during the first act as it seemed to drag harshly, however once we make it into act 2 everything picks up pace and it becomes more about her battle for survival against nature and less about her family, thank god.

Despite the fairly expositional first act, the only other problem that bugged me with The Shallows is how towards the final quarter of the film, the menacing shark loses it’s sense of realism drastically and ultimately becomes not that intimidating. It may have been the fact we saw to much of the beast? Maybe it was the CGI? I can’t quite put my finger on it but the tension and fear felt throughout the second act diminishes (to an extent) at the part with it should have been at it’s most intense.

Overall, I really found myself enjoying The Shallows. It has a great leading lady in Blake Lively and I became genuinely invested in how outcome throughout the film due to how much danger she is presented with. It holds a few pacing issues and lacks that main emotional drive behind the character back home, however the story is focused on Nancy and her survival in the situation at the beach so it doesn’t take away from the film too much. I’m rating The Shallows:

7 out of 10!

Go support the film by going to see it in the cinema and casting your own decisions on it. If you’ve already seen it, what did you think? Let me know.

Thomas E. Griffiths

 

 

6 Things I Learned Whilst Making My First (Crowdfunded) Documentary

It was around 3:40am and I was lying in my pitch black room doing an awful job at falling to sleep, this was probably not helped by my chain-drinking of tea earlier in the night. I wasn’t even close to falling to sleep, my mind was actually itching to make something. I was craving creativity. So I jumped out of bed, blindly searched for my laptop in the darkness consumed man-pit that is my bedroom and then set up my base of operations in the living room. I was going to make a Kickstarter project.

Kickstarter is a website where you can bring your creative ideas to the table, pitch them to the world and hope that they have enough faith in you to support your quest with financial backing and bring your idea to fruition. I had never attempted a Kickstarter project before so I was going in blind. On top of this, the idea for my project was to create a documentary – another endeavour I hadn’t yet attempted before.

My younger brother has a neurological condition called autism, so I decided to kill three birds with one stone (I’m an ambitious stone thrower). Let me create my first documentary AND learn more about my brother’s condition in the process AND use the documentation of my journey to introduce and educate society on the condition – raising awareness and understanding. The film – “Autism: A Curious Case of the Human Mind” (you can watch the trailer here) is currently in its final sound mix in post-production, but I’m going to use the last 12 months that I’ve experienced to let you know of 6 things I learned whilst creating my first documentary and I advise you take note on them to hopefully help you out in your own crowdfunding and filmmaking endeavours.

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My first documentary “Autism: A Curious Case of the Human Mind” will be released later this year.

 

1. Make Sure You Are Pursuing A Subject Matter That You’re Passionate About Or Want To Learn More About

It’s taken me just over a year for my film to be completed, and that can be considered a reasonably short amount of time (that is including the Kickstarter campaigns and 3 stages of production). Although this is considered a fairly short amount of time to create a film, I could see the mental effect that it was having on myself and my crew members. Was there times where I just wished that we could finish the film already? Yes. Am I glad that it’s over? Yes. Would I change the topic? No. I can safely say that I chose a topic that is personal to me and meant a lot – however I would change some of my approaches, which I’ll go into later.

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Me with Owen (left), my autistic brother who was the main motivation and inspiration behind my first documentary.

Making any film can take a long time – making a documentary is no different. When selecting a topic to document make sure it is something you’re genuinely eager to learn about and explore because the process takes time. If you’re no longer interested in the subject before you’ve finished your film – then the final product is going to suffer dramatically and you’ll feel the film is now a burden rather than an opportunity. Once you begin to delve into a subject matter for a documentary, it becomes almost all you think about and certain terms, people, events etc will run through your head constantly until your film is complete. I’m afraid to say that this happens regardless of if you’re enjoying it or not – so at least make sure that you’re constantly thinking about things that make you interested in how you can deliver them creatively to your audience and what you can learn from it. Your passionate can prove to serve as a vital motivator to get you and your crew through the most testing times of production – so make sure it’s there.

2. Get Your Contributors And Your Crew Together BEFORE You Get Funded

When my Kickstarter project got funded – I was literally like “Shit. Now I’ve actually got to make a documentary”. It’s a daunting task, especially when you’ve got a budget there but no crew and contributors to actually make your film with. Don’t just get out of bed and spontaneously create a Kickstarter project like I did, that’s a bad idea. If you’re considering pursuing a subject for a documentary, ask around first. Seek out people who are interesting to talk to and willing to be filmed, gather a collection of possible contributors ready so if you are lucky enough to receive funding you can go into production much, much quicker and organise your interviews closer together. Allowing you to finish production much quicker too.

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Meeting one of my contributors with her autistic son, Jake.

Simply, can you imagine successfully getting your project funded and then realising you cannot access the contributors you want to? So your film doesn’t reach or explore what you want it too? It’s a horrible and embarrassing thought. I had to endure them thoughts myself for a while after funding. As my brother is autistic, I idiotically assumed that I could film him at my leisure, speak to my parents about it on camera and also use their contacts with other autistic families to speak to me – that just didn’t happen. I didn’t get a crew together for a month after I received funding, then I couldn’t get any access to the contributors I wanted too for 2 months after that, and then another 2 months after my first interview. The waiting between interviews, trying to find contributors, can seriously harm your crew’s mentality. If your project loses pace, your team loses faith. If your movie loses steam, your crew loses esteem. Okay, okay, I’ll stop now but you get what I’m saying. If I had gathered my contributors before I got funded, I could have fit the entire filming process inside one month but hey, live life and learn.

 

3. Budget Properly Before Crowdfunding

On the back of gathering a plethora of possible contributors and your film crew, this allows you to work out an efficient budget for your project. Take into account wages, travel, catering. Not to mention your filming equipment, editing software and soundtrack!

You can work out how much it will be to pay wages, travel and possibly even accommodate your crew members when going to meet contributors. Your budget can also coincide with your “success” goals. Also, if you’re using crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter, remember that they charge tax on your raised money so you may have to set your target slightly higher.

As I created my Kickstarter campaign, I had no contributors and no crew members attached to this project. I went with the mindset of: Borrow my filming equipment from my college, utilise college film students to build a film crew, use my parent’s (imaginary) contacts to get contributors. Now although I was able to borrow various pieces of equipment from my college and my film crew worked UNPAID, this was incredibly stupid and if this had been a bigger production, it would have easily crashed and burned.

I had a team of 6 film students aged between 17 – 20 years old, only one of that team could drive. So if that one team member was ill, working or simply not available, our transport would have to come out of our budget – one interview costing £60 in taxi’s alone, which broke my heart as that alone was almost 20% of our £330 production budget.

So work out what you want before you desperately need it.

4. Footage Attracts Interest!

I found this out during my second Kickstarter campaign, one that aimed to raise money for the film’s post-production process, soundtrack and film festival submission fees. By this time, we had already released the trailer for the film and this proved extremely useful in putting together our video for the campaign. Footage, behind the scenes clips, on set photography – it all serves a purpose and can also bring in interest on your social media pages, slowly generating an audience to showcase your work for!

 

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Me (top) looking rather rough in the second Kickstarter video and Owen (bottom) in the trailer.

When people see footage, they know you mean business – you’re not just some dreamer with a million different ideas but no actual ideas on how to make them into a reality. You can see the difference in support by comparing the two projects, the first one made £368 (before tax), whereas the follow-up campaign managed to bring us £678!

 

If you want to persuade others to invest time and money into your idea, my best advice would be to shoot a taster for them. Just a short 2 minute clip of the type of style or content you want to create can really open their eyes to see that you are serious in the pursuit of creativity. You can take examples of this working from films such as Saw, Napoleon Dynamite and even Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels – all these films were developed and funded because of concept short films shown to potential producers.

5. Define “Success” For Your Film

To make a social impact? To go viral on YouTube? To get into film festivals? To win at film festivals? To win an Oscar? You have to decide what you want your film to achieve, and you have to do it early. My definition of success for Autism: A Curious Case of the Human Mind is if it gets accepted into film festivals, as it’s my first ever independent project and my first go at the festival circuit. So we’ll have to wait and see how that one goes.

Deciding what is considered as a “success” for your film is really important because it dictates your mindset throughout the project, it gives yourself and your fellow crew members what you’re aiming for and it allows you to set the correct budget for what you want to achieve. When your project is going through its ups and downs, you’ll want to change your goal for the project and you run the risk of doing yourself either an injustice, because it could be so much more than you’ve let it develop into or you’ll be setting yourself up for “failure” because you’ve taken too much on and you just don’t have the resources to reach your desired target. However, I will say that I do admire people who are not afraid to fail.

6. Audio Is Priority

Film is an audio/visual medium and although many would argue that the visuals are what make a film, it’s the audio that keeps your audience watching. An audience can watch a film with grainy and underexposed footage as long as it has good audio. However if the film has poor audio, no matter how beautiful your film is, your audience will stop watching.

When looking back on my production process, I wish I had prioritised my audio quality over my visuals. I was lucky to an extent, I had access to professional quality zoom kits for some of my interviews however I had to settle for a less than professional attached microphone for others. Even professional zoom kits can be rendered almost useless if placed in the wrong hands and with a team of film students behind me, the equipment was definitely in not-very-experienced hands (but that’s okay, because it’s a learning curve).

So when you are budgeting your equipment, prioritise your sound quality first because a film with good sound can take it from “here” *holds out hand towards you at a certain height* to “here” *raises hand about 2 ft higher*.

There, that was 6 things I learned whilst creating my first documentary! I hope you enjoyed the read and hopefully avoid the mistakes that I made on my first creative endeavour.

by Thomas Elliott Griffiths