The Dark Tapes (2017) Review
Directors: Vincent J. Guastini, Michael McQuown
Writer: Michael McQuown
Stars: David Hull, Brittany Underwood, Cortney Palm
Runtime: 98 min
Plot (from IMDB) – A genre-defying mixture of horror, sci-fi, myth, mystery and thrills told as four interlocking tales in one intelligent anthology. Ghosts, spirits, creatures, demons and more from the paranormal world collide with rational curiosity.
It’s getting to that time of year again when my family start to get excited about the horror aficionado’s favourite time of year, Halloween! As well as sorting out the kids costumes, one of the things we do in our house is work out what our Halloween night film marathon will consist of. Normally, the only anthology we would choose to watch is the fantastic “Trick r Treat,” as in our experience no other anthology has lived up to its standards. So when I got the chance to review the new “found footage” anthology, The Dark Tapes, I was both curious and excited to see if it could punch above its weight and compare to our Halloween favourite.
“The Dark Tapes”, the brainchild of writer/director Michael McQuown and his co-director, veteran make up artist Vincent J. Guastini, is a found footage anthology that mixes sci-fi, horror and mystery throughout its four interlinked segments. I know it might sound like a rip off of the likes of V/H/S/ and the afore mentioned Trick r Treat, but the originality of the segments endings make it worth the watch.
Before we get into the film’s main segments, we are treated to a tone setting intro where we see Marie (SARAH CASTRO) and Sam (DAVID BANKS) arriving at theatre that appears to be the scene of some sort of gruesome murder. There’s a blood stained bed, and weird recording equipment strewn all over. There is also a video camera, which when turned on take us into the first segment.
That first segment is called “To Catch a Demon” and is “recorded” by physics professor, Martin (David Rountree), his assistant Nicolle (Cortney Palm of SUSHI GIRL’S fame!)and Jason (Matt Magnusson), who has been hired to record an experiment. We find out that Martin has suffered a kind of sleep paralysis for years where he feels he is visited by “something.” He is now determined to prove that these things are actually inter-dimensional beings trapped in our world. Naturally, our trio of brainiacs get a little more than they bargained for!
It’s the subject of these beings, and why we perceive them as terrifying that links us nicely into segment two, “The Hunters and the Hunted”. This segment is one that you have to stick with right to the end. At first, I just rolled my eyes as it looked like it was just going to be another rehash of the oversold “family moves into a haunted house, but refuse to just move out” story. But seriously, make sure you watch it all the way through, as the payoff is more than worth it…
Third up, and in the position that we normally call the “piss break” segment (if were watching it in the cinema) as its normally the weakest of the anthology to set up a big finale, is “Cam Girls.” We meet Caitlin (Emilia Ares Zoryan), who has recently moved to “The City” and has even more recently started a relationship with Sindy (Anna Rose Moore). Sindy loves nothing more than having sex on camera for paying punters, but one day she decides to give one lucky guy a free show. Gerry (Aral Gibble), the “winner”, is told to prepare for the show of his life, but unfortunately the girls actually meant the LAST show of his life. This is a real “WHAT THE FUCK” segment.
To finish off, we visit the world of alien abduction with “Amanda’s Revenge.” Amanda (Brittany Underwood) is at a party is slipped a date rape drug by a guy she considered one of her best friends, but luckily is rescued from the inevitable rape that would have taken place. Unfortunately, she starts experiencing strange (what she considers) side effects, such as time loss, black outs and personality changes. She tries everything to sort them out to no avail, until part of her ordeal comes back to her. She decides she know what to do put things right and starts formulating a plan, but does it work? I’m going to leave this one here as it’s a payoff that is worth seeing unspoilt!
Now that we have done with the plot (sorry if it was long winded), I think I’ll start with the films negatives. Firstly, is an issue which plagues all low budget film makers, and that is the production values. Now, I’m sure like me you will have seen a lot worse, but it still detracts from the overall viewing experience. On the same lines, the creature effects in the film are really bad, and we found ourselves chuckling at them while ever they were on screen.
Secondly while the endings and payoff’s of the segments are generally impressive, the themes themselves are very unoriginal, and can be found better done elsewhere. It’s a shame, as if the segments as a whole were as original as the endings, then we would be on to a real winner.
Lastly, is a sub-genre wide issue with found footage style films. Why the hell would they be carrying a camera? Segment one get around this, as does section 3, but the others just made no sense. With the amount of these style films being churned out, film makers really need to be creative to solve this issue.
OK, on to my favourite bit, the positives! Firstly, I have to mention the acting. Anyone who watches indie films will know just how diverse the acting quality can be. In The Dark Tapes, the creators manage to get decent performances from almost the entire cast, which is a testament to their ability as film makes as much as the actors ability. I think Cortney Palm is the standout, but everyone does themselves proud.
Secondly, the scripts, which are great for all four segments. A particular gem though is “The Hunters and the Hunted.” The actors were given a terrific short story to work with. The dialogue was crisp and never felt like the cast had to force the lines.
To wrap this review up, I have to say I wish there was more money to make the film. If McQuown could have afforded better production values and creature design it would, along with the great acting and impressive scripts, made this a must see movie. He attempted to gat around the constraints by focussing more on storytelling and character work, and to an extent it worked. If you can overlook the issues I’ve outlined, then I’m pretty sure you will be entertained!