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.
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.
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!
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