Fame-hungry Gemma asks her boyfriend Danny and his media student mate Nathan to film her Big Brother audition. They hear about a sex party and change course, but soon wish they hadn’t as the party goers turn out to be devil worshippers.
“The Tapes” is another entry in the tired (or not-so-tired, depending on your point of view) found-footage horror sub-genre. Where films like “Cloverfield” (2008), “[REC]” (2007), “The Blair Witch Project (1999), and “Paranormal Activity” (2007) broke ground, and continually re-invented the genre they sprung from, this film seems to be an honest effort, that falls into stereotype.
The fault of many found-footage films is an overlong exposition. This film is no exception. With most horror, action, or thriller films, the exposition is short, and the excitement begins right away. With many films from this genre, the appeal to the filmmaker is to be “real,” and they attempt to show that realism by pretending to ignore a fast pace. Perhaps there is an argument for it, but for most horror fans, getting to the action quicker is much more important than being completely realistic. This film especially suffers from this problem. Not all is bad, though.
Within the independent horror field, filmmakers try and find new ways to hide cheap budgets. Having the footage be filmed by the characters themselves is an easy way to hide cheap cameras, and little lighting. It can be a great creative decision. Add that, to some terrific sound design, and “The Tapes” edges out much of the competition from independent horror cinema. This film has an air of professionalism that many others lack.
The film has an interesting twist to the genre, in that the found footage is mixed with documentary footage. It makes it seem as if the viewer is watching some sort of news broadcast. It is an intriguing way to build suspense right off the bat, and to bring a fresh look to the handheld horror genre. The mixture with documentary footage, that directors Lee Alliston and Scott Bates use, gives this film a fun look, and a believable pacing. By the end of the film though, this style raises a few more questions than it answers. Why haven’t the police been involved, especially if local news and residents all know about the happenings that went on?
The audience follows two young men (Jason Maza and Arnold Oceng), who are taping a reality show audition of a friend (Natasha Sparks). They venture off to a secluded swingers camp to get some juicy footage to spice up her audition, when they find they may have overstepped their bounds.
One of the greatest weaknesses of the genre in general is the motivations of the camera operator, or as in this case, operators. Why do they keep holding the cameras? Are they documentarians, student filmmakers, or ardent photographers? In this film, there is no answer, so sometimes it can be hard to believe that the characters don’t just drop the cameras, stop recording and keep running.
The three main characters, who all share camera duties, do hold their own while on screen. Maza, Oceng, and Sparkes are all young and aspiring actors from the U.K. This makes a rather nice surprise to see that they all have some strong talent to show while on screen.
Once the mystery begins, and things start really becoming strange, the combination of great sound design, art direction, and strong actors all help this film to keep the audience involved until the end. The final act showcases some cool props regarding Satanic rituals, sacrifices, and occult behaviors.
Unfortunately, while the third act is filled with much more suspense and tension than the first two, it still fails to deliver the kind of ending that could have helped this film to become an icon of the genre. Perhaps a little bit more of a budget could have helped the filmmakers have a few more gore shots. A little bit more focus on the violence could have helped bring this piece up a few notches.
All in all, some slick direction from two established film workers (in one of their first outings as co-directors), great production value from a super low budget venture, and some strong performances give this film some good entertainment value. It does fall prey to some standing clichés, but that is not always a bad thing. Horror buffs will find a fun, if forgettable, experience here. “The Tapes” is worth a look, especially for the die hard fans.
The Tapes (2011)