The found footage format is tailor made for horror. Like the horror genre itself, it’s a difficult style to pull off convincingly so which makes good entries few and far between. Rarely do the films look authentic or genuine, instead they’re overproduced and lack any nuance or subtlety. Enter The Dark tapes. An anthology series written and directed by Michael McQuown along with his co-director Vincent J. Guastini, The Dark Tapes consists of three seemingly separate stories all connected by a fourth wraparound tale that cleverly connects the dots. It’s an ambitious narrative that is a breath of fresh air for a sub-genre that is oversaturated with poor films.
The wraparound segment is “To Catch a Demon” telling the story of a group of paranormal investigators doing a study on sleep paralysis and how these night terrors might give us a peek into another world. We don’t spend much time with them (but we will) before we’re introduced to the first complete segment, “The Hunters and the Hunted”. You would be forgiven for dismissing this as a poor man’s Paranormal Activity at first glance. Young couple? Check. Poltergeist activity? Check. Set up cameras to capture evidence to entice paranormal investigators to come and look into the spooky goings on? You know the drill. At first the footage looks overproduced and crystal clear but this can quickly be rationalised when you realise mobile phones can shoot in 60fps. Technology has come a long way since The Blair Witch Project and we can’t expect contemporary found footage to have the same grainy quality even if the HD footage means sacrificing some charm. It’s a strong segment with some unnerving moments that makes up for its clichéd homages with a killer twist that seemingly comes out of nowhere.
“Cam Girls” offers a frightening look at internet chat rooms and may make you think twice about striking up a conversation with strangers. This is most strongly acted segment with great performances by the enticing hosts Emilia Ares Zoryan and Anna Rose Moore. It’s short, and feels a little rushed but it doesn’t hurt the film overall and will have you watching through your fingers.
I felt the final segment, “Amanda’s Revenge”, was the weakest although it didn’t make it any less disturbing. The technical setup is simple with the filmmakers making good use of their surroundings including long creepy hallways. A lot of focus is put on this story as we segue back into the wraparound as the film nears its climax. The special effects are commendable for a low budget movie with the director skillfully plaing to his strenghts.
The main criticism of the connecting stories is the unnecessary exposition McQuown bogs down the script with. His need to highlight to the audience the link between the segments is forced but it doesn’t detract from the tone he’s created.
The Dark Tapes is a refreshing found footage horror that has an intriguing story that styas clear of needless ambuguity. It stretches the limits of believability as legitmate found footage but it’s a consistently entertaining horror film that utilises the format well without becoming too gimmicky. A strong and disturbing horror that forgoes jump scares for intense frights.