“Humanity is getting closer to the truth, … to us. We won’t let that happen.” So says a distorted, inhuman voice during the opening credits to The Dark Tapes. According to Sturgeon’s Law, ninety percent of everything is crap. But in the category of found footage horror films, The Dark Tapes sits firmly within the 10% that is not crap. In fact it is very good.
The Dark Tapes has a nontraditional structure consisting of four different segments or numbered “dark tapes.” There’s also a very short wrap around at the beginning and end that depicts the discovery of the tapes. The nontraditional aspect is Tape 1, which is shown in four parts before, in between, and after Dark Tapes 2, 3 and 4.
Each of the four stories has a significant and legitimate twist that most people won’t see coming. Following is a brief synopsis of each of the Dark Tapes with the intent to give an accurate representation of the setup for each without giving away the plot twist.
“Dark Tape 1 – To Catch a Demon” begins with Martin (David Rountree), a physics professor, and his research experiment into what he calls transdimensional entities, usually explained away by present day civilization as either demons or night terrors. Nicole, Martin’s doctoral research assistant, is aiding him with his experiment. Nicole is played by Cortney Palm, who also played the final girl in that guiltiest of all guilty pleasures, 2014’s Zombeavers. The two researchers are accompanied by Jason (Matt Magnusson), their videographer for the experiment. The entities’ existence is explained through some pseudoscience that surprisingly makes sense. Think in terms of the original Star Trek episode, “Wink of an Eye.” As Martin explains, the transdimensional entities are in a time dilation that is accelerated, in relation to our timescale, at a variable rate. The entities would have to stand still for up to 3 hours for us to see them for one second in our time scale. Martin has devised an experimental method to bring the two time dilations into synchronization. That coupled with Jason’s high speed, super slowmo video camera should allow them to see the transdimensional entities.
“Dark Tape 2 – The Hunters and the Hunted” opens with David (Stephen Zimpel) filming Karen’s (Shawn Lockie) first look at their newly acquired dream house. However, their infatuation with the house falters quickly when they begin to hear things that go bump, even in the daytime. They also manage to capture other supernatural manifestations on video. Since none of what they are experiencing can be explained, they call in a team of paranormal investigators – Susan (Jo Callaway), Cameron (Clint Keepin), and Geoff (Jonathan Biver) – who they hope can shed light on what they’re experiencing.
“Dark Tape 3 – Cam Girls” tells the story of Caitlin (Emilia Ares Zoryan), who is having trouble adjusting to her new lifestyle after recently moving in with her lover, Sindy (Anna Rose Moore). She’s also experiencing periodic blackouts and has seen videos of herself doing things she can’t remember nor imagine herself doing. She calls her old friend Eric (Shane Hartline), a medical student, to see if his perspective on her troubles can provide any relief. However, Eric isn’t much help as he attributes her problems to excessive alcohol and drug consumption. What Caitlin doesn’t tell him is that Sindy and she are doing live webcam sex shows to earn money. As the two prepare for their next performance, Sindy asks Caitlin to influence one of their customers to do something against their nature, something they wouldn’t normally do. Caitlin reluctantly agrees and Gerry (Aral Gribble) is chosen as the lucky recipient of her powers of persuasion.
“Dark Tape 4 – Amanda’s Revenge” opens with a party during which two male partygoers drug Amanda (Brittany Underwood) and drag her into a bedroom. Luckily, Amanda’s friends witness the abduction and they quickly rescue her before her abductors are able to complete their assault. Amanda’s three best friends – Ryan (Jake O’Connor), Ashley (Katherine Shaw), and Josh (David Hull) – decide they should record her when the effects of the drug wear off to make sure there is an accurate record for the police. However, when Amanda awakes, she seems dazed and when they try to comfort her, the house shakes as if there’s been an earthquake and the video is filled with interference while Amanda shrieks over and over, “Don’t touch me!” As the chaos subsides, the friends help Amanda back to bed, but when she finally returns, she doesn’t remember what happened the night before or even what happened previously that morning. Through communication and meetings with Ryan over the next four months, we learn that something very strange is happening to Amanda.
Each of the other three Dark Tapes makes a connection at one level or another to the transdimensional entity concept of “To Catch a Demon.” The film also remains faithful to the “rules” of found footage. There’s no musical score and there’s always a legitimate and logical reason for the recording to occur.
The Dark Tapes is written, directed, and edited by Michael McQuown with the exception of “To Catch a Demon,” which is directed by Vincent J. Guastini. Both McQuown and Guastini are first time directors, making their creation that much more impressive.
The entity design and practical effects are critical to the success of The Dark Tapes and are exceptional for such a low budget movie. The makeup department of Afton A. Adams (prosthetic makeup designer / special makeup effects artist), Jill Fogel (special makeup effects artist), and Josh Wasylink (sculptor for “To Catch a Demon”) do an exceptional job with a unique and believable demon design. And it’s not hard to imagine Guastini’s background in makeup and special effects contributing to the success of the creature design.
Another key to the film’s impact is the post production sound by Steven Aram. In all segments, the sound is critical to the viewer’s acceptance of what they are seeing, and effectively cements the perception of transdimensional beings or demons trespassing in our world. The Dark Tapes provides multiple chills and frights which are abetted and amplified by the sound design.
To cap it off, the actors are all able to give the impression of not acting. In other words, being appropriately inept and uncomfortable on camera at first as they are consciously aware of their actions being filmed. But as each segment progresses, the characters are caught up in the developments and emotions of their story and lose that first awkwardness while being recorded. It can’t be an easy progression to make but everyone makes it work.
While the creature design is incredible, the only possible criticism might be that too much of the creatures are shown. Cutting a few, carefully selected seconds might have been a case of less is more in terms of the viewer’s perception of the transdimensional entities. Even so, The Dark Tapes is at once one of the best anthologies and one of the best found footage films I’ve seen. It’s won a multitude of festival awards for everything from best feature to best directing to best ensemble cast and it’s not hard to see why. The Dark Tapes makes you think, keeps you guessing, gives you goosebumps, and rewards you for your attention! Slated for an early 2017 release, this is one you should definitely put on your radar.
The Dark Tapes (4.5 / 5)