As much as genres dissipate and reemerge, we should never truly be surprised when a long-thought defunct one drops back on the scene. Regardless of history, when I first sat back for The Dark Tapes, I was perplexed. Found-footage, by most accounts, is a novelty that has run its course. How many more times can we stumble across a box of tapes containing an assembled story of moments in a person’s life, when they should be running an Olympic sprint out of a house – not holding their Steadicam in place – and it actually proves worthy of our time? It turns out, at least one more.
The Dark Tapes is an anthology of three stories plus a central wraparound. Unlike most films of this ilk, where each story feels like a hodgepodge of ideas from various artists, the majority of this film was written and directed by Michael McQuown (with co-director Vincent J. Guastini in tow). This provides a singular vision of sorts, allowing the audience an opportunity to identify each tape as a smaller cog in the proverbial wheel – it’s all connected.
To Catch A Demon is our wraparound and guiding force. We follow a research team as they conduct experiments exploring the possibility of a time distortion in our reality, one which allows entities to exist without our knowledge. This piece consists of several sections, broken up throughout the film as tensions mount and terror escalates. The use of practical creature effects and subtle cues enable Demon to serve the anthology puzzle nicely, as each piece elevates the direness of the situation.
The Hunters and the Hunted kicks off the second tape, where we meet a couple experiencing a Paranormal Activity-style situation. Cameras, noises, ghosts. I have to admit my eyes began a solid roll as this one started, thoughts of “yea, because we’ve never done this before” became shooting pains in the back of my mind. Eventually, our couple reaches out to a Ghost Hunters group of paranormal researchers for assistance, and I understood this was not the version of the story I thought it would be. A solid piece with a stark twist and at least three genuine jump scares.
Cam Girls begins with Caitlin, an attractive webcam worker who appears to be struggling with her current life choices as she debates them with an old friend online. After ending this therapy session, her girlfriend joins in to welcome Gerry, a poor schmuck who seems like the sweetest guy creeping on the internet at the current time. Caitlin’s performance begins, and this segment emerges as both a low-rent homage to Black Mirror and my personal favorite of the collection. It all works due to the seductive nuance of Emilia Ares Zoryan as Caitlin, and the sad sincerity of Aral Gribble’s Gerry as he succumbs to her deliciously macabre charms.
Then we arrive at Amanda’s Revenge. Here we meet the titular Amanda (Brittany Underwood), a young woman who comes to believe she’s being visited in her sleep by mysterious creatures, yet cannot see nor capture them with modern technology. It has a very early X-Files feel as skepticism gives way to belief, and finally her best friend pitches in to help thwart these beasts. The weakest of the segments, Revenge suffers a bit from the obvious budget constrictions in bringing these “other beings” to life. Despite its limitations, it’s still a fairly engaging tale, held together by an increasingly distraught performance from Underwood.
Anthologies I love (who doesn’t in our modern ADHD-minded society), found-footage on the other hand, I typically do not. Many will compare The Dark Tapes to the V/H/S films – which I find a disservice as those movies just aren’t very good – while I prefer to think of this collection more as Sam Raimi’s version of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Michael McQuown navigates through an obviously restricted budget, conveying several unique ideas and, with a strong grouping of talented young actors, manages to create a compelling narrative within his own prescribed universe.
Give this man a budget and let’s see if he can find a few more of these Tapes.
Starring Brittany Underwood, Emilia Ares Zoryan, Aral Gribble
Written by Michael McQuown
Directed by Michael McQuown and Vincent J. Guastini