The Tapes (2011)

The Tapes is about a big brother audition video that goes horribly wrong. Although a unique enough premise, it is the attempt to make this video that ends up being more compelling than the “horribly wrong” part, which slips into a giant clichéd mess that tragically confines The Tapes to bottom-of-the-barrel boredom.

Gemma (Natasha Sparkes) wants to be on the Big Brother “gameshow” and she ropes in her boyfriend Danny (Jason Maza) and media student mate Nathan (Arnold Oceng) to film her audition video. After many failed attempts, the trio find out there’s a “swingers” party happening nearby, and decide they should film it to make a quick buck. Upsettingly the farm-house doesn’t contain sexy bedrooms but whips, chains and lots of religious iconography, and the trio quickly realize they’re about to become sacrifices for a cult of devil-worshippers…

Gritty Brit-flick regular Jason Maza (Anuvahood, Shifty) plays likeable fool Danny perfectly, channelling Danny Dyer and naturally rolling out some classic dialogue. Perhaps the most likeable of the trio, you believe everything he does. In fact, you believe everything they all do, it’s just what they do is absolutely idiotic…

Here lies the crux of problem with The Tapes – the character and story. Character first: where the dialogue is solid and brilliantly delivered, the actual characters are all massively flawed and completely ridiculous. They are difficult it sympathize with, especially when you spend the majority of the film laughing at them!

Whereas Danny Dyer in Severance and Nick Frost in Shaun of the Dead are both, basically, a bit moronic, they’re countered by smarter characters in the guise of Laura Harris and Simon Pegg respectively. The Tapes has no such “straight” character to ground the more ridiculous / stupid characters. We have three fools doing something foolish – not noticing the ominous tarot cards and weird symbols littering the “swingers” farm, for example – and ultimately it makes you care less about them than you really should.

The story of The Tapes is one of two halves. One enjoyable and compelling and the other dull and predictable. Oddly, it’s not the way around you’d perhaps expect. It is the first half of The Tapes that is enjoyable, exciting and interesting and the second half – with the pig-headed weirdoes and the violent death dealing – that sags, slumps and eventually collapses in a boring heap.

As I mentioned above, the characters are loveable twits. They spend half the movie attempting to create Gemma’s big brother audition tape, from inside a fishmongers to a children’s play-park in the snow, glittery dress n’ all. When she agrees to do a more “unique” audition tape whilst hiding at a swingers party, it’s funny, sad and utterly believable. But then the second half confines the characters to a small dank room where they can’t really talk and all the energy and fun is replaced by… a crap cult. It becomes generic and unbelievable. It’s a real shame.

Some other things are off too; the interesting cut-away interviews with family, friends, police and local residents inexplicably stop when the scary stuff starts and this breaks the illusion that what we’re seeing is a documentary. Where is the reveal about the missing Farmer (if he’s missing – presumably the police would’ve questioned him!) or anyone else? The second half just doesn’t sit right.

The Tapes is a showcase for the talents of Jason Maza, Natasha Sparkes and Arnold Oceng, but little else. Their comedic first half easily out-classes the generic second half, which is a heap of “found footage” cliché and little more. If you hate the characters then you’re in for an appalling and difficult watch, but if you like their loveably-imbecilic personalities you’ll certainly enjoy half of it. The Tapes is wasted potential in a sub-genre bulging with failure. Avoid.

Rating: ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

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