As horror films continue to become cheaper to make, it’s the innovative ones that stand out. The Dark Tapes sits among other modern anthology horror films such as V/H/S, The ABCs of Death, and Tales of Halloween with the same type of gradual push against a monumental force of resistance. The previously mentioned anthology films often do very little to move the genre forward, but The Dark Tapes tries its best with a more high-concept wrapping around its three shorts. While those shorts in question are held back by performances that are, at best, serviceable, and dialogue that will make you cringe more than the horror will, there is a level of ambition in the core concept that helps elevate this anthology beyond others in its genre.
The most obvious place where anthology films suffer is their packaging of the shorts. They’re sometimes creative, but they tend to hold no bearing on the actual shorts themselves. The only redundancies are jumping off points. Which is fine if the shorts go the extra mile and are willing to innovate. However, where The Dark Tapes switches things around is it doesn’t go that extra mile for two of its shorts. Instead, it invests time in its mythology. Burrowing deep into the science fiction elements, the film explains and prepares the viewer for something far grander in scope than most paranormal films.
When two people discover a camera consisting of four recorded tapes, they have no idea what’s in store for them as the supernatural and paranormal come out in full force. That being said, there’s really only one short here that actually leans heavily into the genre while most are content with teasing. When they’re willing to reveal their twists they’re (mostly) great, but I found the most endearing of all the shorts to be the one which The Dark Tapes recognizes as important to its mythology. Following a professor, his assistant, and video recorder, as they explore a possible explanation to paranormal presences, the initial short explains ideas behind the film and leaves a sense of ambition that unfortunately casts a shadow across all of the shorts that follow it.
The next short, entitled “The Hunters and the Hunted” plays with the ideas presented previously, but then decides that its twist is better than the high-concept idea prior to it – which is wrong. The problem is that there is a feeling that the explanation to the short is much more magnificent than it actually ends up being. There’s a twist, but it’s so tame in comparison to what it could have been that it cheapens the experience. It also doesn’t help that the next short, “Cam Girls”, is about as good as its title suggests.
I’m all for cringe, but “Cam Girls” just relies on that far too much. I also don’t quite understand its presence in this compilation of shorts because there is no real connection. It is by far the most out of place because it completely shifts the tone of the movie by becoming a cringe-inducing short that dives into a separate mythology which is far less interesting. Unsure of its place in The Dark Tapes, “Cam Girls” does a huge disservice by being in the middle of the film. Pacing slogs and interest in the film wanes because “Cam Girls” doesn’t offer anything substantial except for that palpable cringe. It’s also the short where the acting is at its worst, but you kind of forgive it because of its subject matter. It’s disappointing because “The Hunters and the Hunted” actually has some good acting amidst its pretty mundane premise.
What “Cam Girls” does offer is something that I can easily applaud The Dark Tapes for which is its use of practical effects. While not in this short, there is a very key creature design that looks awesome and works really well with the insanity of another short. “Cam Girls” goes places that practical effects help sell, and that’s an important reason for its incorporation. There are other shorts where practical and special effects are melded together for an interesting take on the genre and the shorts themselves. I found myself enjoying their use cases which is one of the defining reasons to use effects.
The next short deals more with uncertainty and relishes in the viewer really not having any idea of what’s happening, which feels in line with everything else in the anthology. The Dark Tapes often finds itself trying to dig under the skin of the viewer, which I think works on multiple occasions. But it’s only the further exploration of its initial ideas that makes it an interesting watch. All throughout the film you’ll get static and other weird things happening to the camera, but all it does is imply a presence – one that the film doesn’t really seem concerned with unless its time for the short that explains it. Which might be the point of it all; that the viewer knows kind of what’s happening, but the characters persist in believing in the outlandish. I just don’t think The Dark Tapes goes far enough with that notion to become much better than the rest of the anthology films that plague the horror genre.
A digital copy of this film was provided for review purposes.
The Dark Tapes
- The mythology of The Dark Tapes is interesting
- It's great to see the connecting tissue of an anthology film cared about
- All the twists do take the viewer aback
- Practical effects!
- Some pretty bad acting in Cam Girls
- The Hunters and the Hunted has a twist that kind of ruins the build up
- Cam Girls really just made me unhappy with a lot of its choices
- As inventive as the wrapping is, it never really feels as crucial to the film because of the detachment the shorts have