THE DARK TAPES (2017)
Directed by Vincent J. Guastini (“To Catch A Demon”), Michael McQuown (“Amanda’s Revenge”, “Cam Girls”, “PsychoTherapy”, “The Hunters & The Hunted”, “Wraparound”)
Written by Michael McQuown
Starring Emilia Ares Zoryan, David Banks, Jonathan Biver, Sara Castro, Michael Cotter, Denise Faro, Brittany Fisheli, Jo Galloway, Aral Gribble, Annalisa Guidone, Shane Hartline, David Hull, Stephane Kay, Clint Keepin, Casey James Knight, Kari Lane, Shawn Lockie, Matt Magnusson, Anna Rose Moore, Tessa Munro, Jake O’Connor, Olivia Leigh Nowak, Cortney Palm, David Rountree, Katherine Shaw, Wayne River Sorrell, Meredith Thomas, Brittany Underwood, Julian von Nagel, Stephen Zimpel, Ryan Allan Young
Find out more about this film here, @TheDarkTapesMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by M. L. Miller aka Ambush Bug
Lately I’ve been using my Found Footage questionnaire against the latest releases in the first person POV style. Since this is an anthology of sorts and I don’t want to be repetitive in covering each installment, I’ll just boil it down by saying that for the most part, THE DARK TAPES passes my found footage test with flying colors. Everything going on in the tapes seem like they were inclusive to only what we see. There’s no music added in. There are no tired clichés like REC pull-aways or BLAIR WITCH up-nose confessionals. While the film is edited together and sometimes uses multiple angles, this does feel like someone is compiling some kind of strange phenomena here and putting it to one tape, so it even sort of makes that believable. All in all, THE DARK TAPES works in every technical way. On top of all of that, it is a film rich in fun ideas, creepy imagery, and often shocking twists and turns.
The first segment and wraparound is called “To Catch a Demon” and basically does a decent job of hypothesizing about what exactly we are seeing play out in these installments. A paranormal research team is experimenting with the concept of between-time psycho-phenomena. Basically, there is a world playing out in between the seconds of our own world that we don’t perceive and in that world, there are inhabitants and occurrences that happen so fast that the human mind does not register it. These occurrences are perceived subliminally in the form of flashes and odd feelings. The team is experimenting on this theory which leads to an encounter with something from the other side. The handheld/night vision usage in these connecting tissue installments are what make these parts work so well. On top of that, there are some amazing practical effects that add to the horror. While wraparound segments are usually the segments least developed in most anthologies, here these segments are crucial in understanding the rules and guidelines that are applicable to the other stories in this anthology.
Tape two is called “The Hunters and the Hunted,” which starts out as a sort of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY riff, becomes a GHOST HUNTERS style show, and ends…well, you’ll just have to see it. A couple experiences weird things happening in their homes and call some paranormal investigators when it gets too intense for them. This one has some great suspenseful moments, made more so when things get crazy and you are forced to see every turn around the corner and every descending of stairs from a fixed angle guided by the cameraman investigator. A long creepy hallway, some footsteps heard from the floor above, and a toy ball all factor in to a very intense installment that pays off unconventionally.
The third tape is called “Cam Girl” and while it changes format a bit by showing footage from computer cams, in this day and age where we know it is possible for people to record from our TV and laptop cams without us knowing, the fact that this footage exists is more believable than ever. This one focuses on a pair of cam girls who are not without their own peculiarities choosing a random viewer (a poor schlub named Gerry – played convincingly schlubby by Aral Gribble) to enact a ritual of sorts that ends very badly. This is simple, but Gribble is particularly convincing as the weak-willed computer geek who gets wrapped up in something way over his head. While the speed at which this segment plays out is kind of brisk and Gerry is convinced to do some pretty horrible shit rather quickly, given the fact that this is a short, I’m willing to forgive it.
The final tape is called “Amanda’s Revenge” where a young girl (Amanda—played by Brittany Underwood) believes something is happening to her in the night that she cannot capture with electronic devices or see with the human eye. Utilizing some ancient equipment and enlisting the aid of lifelong friend, Amanda is able to finally capture what it is that is happening to her. Again, the simple setup of a camera on a tripod and a long hallway makes for some very scary scenes that made my hair stand on end. It helps that Underwood is a really good actress and sells the scene no matter how outlandish it gets.
What impressed me the most about THE DARK TAPES is that it seems to have a distinct universe and guidebook applying to the all of the stories playing out here. Unlike films like V/H/S that feel more like a grab bag of ideas from different directors, the singular vision of writer/director Michael McQuown along with his co-director Vincent J. Guastini makes this feel like he is building a singular universe and the stories captured on camera here are all linked to a bigger tale. The opening and closing narration, which is an ominous warning of the existence of these creatures that live between the eye-blinks and seconds and how close we are to discovering their existence makes this anthology feel more like puzzle pieces to a tale yet told. As the filmmakers promise a second installment to this film, which was a hit on the festival circuit and now will be seen by the population, I can’t wait to see more of this twisted and unusual universe hinted at through these stories. All installments of THE DARK TAPES really work and are successful in delivering the scary with clever uses of darks, practical effects, smart editing, solid acting, and a thorough set of ground rules for the world it is taking place in. THE DARK TAPES is potent nightmare fuel and deserves a viewing for those who love heady Lovecraftian horror and found footage fans.