The Dark Tapes is a found footage horror sci-fi thriller told in four parts as the paranormal invades the lives of ordinary people. This independent horror, which has been compared with V/H/S, was driven by Michael McQuown who served as co-director, writer and creator.
The first story 'To Catch a Demon' follows a physics professor and two assistants, who have been hired to oversee a sleep experiment to observe an inter-dimensional being, which has been disturbing the professor in his sleep. The second story, 'The Hunters and the Hunted', follows in the steps of found footage favourite, Paranormal Activity. We're then whisked into the webcam world of "Cam Girls" as an adult entertainer and her partner seduce a customer. Finally, 'Amanda's Revenge' rounds off The Dark Tapes as a girl rescued from a date rape scenario starts experiencing strange side effects.
The Dark Tapes has a female-led cast starring Cortney Palm, Emilia Ares Zoryan and Brittany Underwood. Palm and Zoryan have experience playing horror with Palm featuring in Zombiebeavers and Zoryan in V/H/S: Viral. Together they go to some dark places in the stripped down 'Cam Girls' webcam segment, while Underwood suffers a strange haunting in 'Amanda's Revenge'. It's a large ensemble, which features a number of up-and-coming talents including South African actress, Jo Galloway, as Susan.
Being a low budget production, you've got to meter your expectations in terms of production value and choose to marvel at the achievement within its context. The eclectic mix of cinematography, guerilla horror effects and overall feeling is low budget. Luckily, being underproduced can actually enhance horrors and McQuown has done a good job with the resources at his disposal. He's tailored a horror film with merit, which works thanks to earnest performances from a large ensemble, creepy atmosphere and a compelling anthology of horror stories. While many of the formats are familiar, McQuown adds a fresh twist.
The biggest setback in The Dark Tapes is that there's no clear cohesive narrative thread. The stories are choppy and dissimilar in format, rules and theme making it difficult to connect the dots and establish a fixed universe for the "found footage" tales. There's no central character, narrator or device to guide us through the tunnel of dark tapes... making the whole experience alienating and distancing the audience from each of the happenings. This keeps us ever-curious yet detached from the characters, who we never have enough time to invest in or trust. Perhaps these could have worked better if they were presented as short films.
While housed under the umbrella of horror, each story seems like a kernel for a full feature film rather than complete within themselves. It's entertaining by virtue of its unpredictable nature, but frustrating that we're never immersed in any of the environments long enough to form any attachment with the characters. Watching from an arm's length makes the experience hollow and while there are one or two great scares and clever twists... The Dark Tapes simply teases us with some promising starts with what could have been.
McQuown demonstrates his ability and knows the genre well, concocting some juicy horror set ups in the process, but unfortunately there's just not enough follow-through with The Dark Tapes. Perhaps having a better "bed" for all of the tapes to nestle in would make all the difference, giving us the platform to be creeped out rather than bewildered. There's loads of great stuff going on in The Dark Tapes, making it a pity it didn't work out better.
The bottom line: Alienating