Maybe the most ambitious of the noteworthy indie horrors for 2016-2017, The Dark Tapes definitely deserves its underground cred. The uniquely structured four-part Southbound-style plot weaves together four tangentially related stories that together offer a deconstruction and exploration of the supernatural.
The Dark Tapes is heavily influenced by the found footage movies of the past decade or so and it shows, but not in a bad way. It’s never derivative or a rip-off or anything, but you can tell at least one of the directors really loves found footage. Indie works are generally reflective of their creator’s influences—look at The Love Witch and The Void and The Barn, all from this year—and this one’s no exception.
Reminiscent of VHS and Paranormal Activity but bearing a striking resemblance at times to later pieces like Megan Is Missing and particularly Banshee Chapter, the film wears its influences on its sleeve. Though that isn’t to say that it leans too heavily on others’ works. The Dark Tapes is its own movie, carried by the strength of (most) of its cast and the fascinating universe(s) established by the writing.
The fact of the matter is, this movie is genuinely frightening, dramatically surprising and compellingly conceived. It may fall short at times but overall it was a really impressive effort from first-time director and creator Michael McQuown and collaborator Vincent Guastini.
The Dark Tapes strength is the sense of building dread it creates in some sequences. Sympathetic characters abound and their fates are disturbing enough that we couldn’t always bring ourselves to look.
The trauma is pretty low overall: violence wise, nobody is ripped to shreds before your eyes or anything. The Lovecrafty other-ness of the monsters is creepy, but they won’t be following you home. There’s a few moments that really get to you (Aral Gribble’s brief stint as Gerry stands out) but nothing that we’d really call traumatic.
There’s blood but nothing seriously messed up. The violence, though used well, is very tame. It’s clearly a budget constraint; we know if McQuowm could have, he’d have had some extradimensional entrails blasting across the screen.
There’s some sexuality through-out—oh man, and that one part, that was pretty fucked up—but there’s no actual nudity here. You might see some side-butt at one point, but we don’t remember.
There are a few jump scares here, for sure. It’s not overbearing or annoying though, it’s a tasteful kind of thing. That inimitable found footage jump scare tactic of WOAH BAD GUY LOUD NOISE FLEE is definitely in play, so watch out. The real scares are in the slow-builds to horrific and inevitable conclusions though, which are strong.
This movie will have its detractors. We can’t deny that there are times where the budget clearly betrays the work, or a castmember can’t deliver their lengthy monologue convincingly. It’s far from perfect but indie films so rarely are perfect that it doesn’t matter at all. It’s been a good couple of years for indie horror, and this one stands out amongst some really stellar offerings.
We liked The Dark Tapes for what it was. We here at HorrorRated like to take films on their own terms and give everyone an equal shot to impress us – we get the constraints of a shoestring budget, we get what it means to be a really, actually independent movie. We’re really excited to hear that there’s a sequel brewing, because this movie lays out the groundwork for intrigue into its surprisingly deep and ambitious universe.
Available April 18th on Amazon, Google Play, Playstation, Time Warner Cable, Vimeo, Xbox & more!