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Movie Review: The Dark Tapes


The Dark Tapes is a found footage horror sci-fi thriller told in four parts as the paranormal invades the lives of ordinary people. This independent horror, which has been compared with V/H/S, was driven by Michael McQuown who served as co-director, writer and creator.

The first story 'To Catch a Demon' follows a physics professor and two assistants, who have been hired to oversee a sleep experiment to observe an inter-dimensional being, which has been disturbing the professor in his sleep. The second story, 'The Hunters and the Hunted', follows in the steps of found footage favourite, Paranormal Activity. We're then whisked into the webcam world of "Cam Girls" as an adult entertainer and her partner seduce a customer. Finally, 'Amanda's Revenge' rounds off The Dark Tapes as a girl rescued from a date rape scenario starts experiencing strange side effects.

The Dark Tapes has a female-led cast starring Cortney Palm, Emilia Ares Zoryan and Brittany Underwood. Palm and Zoryan have experience playing horror with Palm featuring in Zombiebeavers and Zoryan in V/H/S: Viral. Together they go to some dark places in the stripped down 'Cam Girls' webcam segment, while Underwood suffers a strange haunting in 'Amanda's Revenge'. It's a large ensemble, which features a number of up-and-coming talents including South African actress, Jo Galloway, as Susan.

"It wants the people responsible for the latest Ghostbusters movie..."

Being a low budget production, you've got to meter your expectations in terms of production value and choose to marvel at the achievement within its context. The eclectic mix of cinematography, guerilla horror effects and overall feeling is low budget. Luckily, being underproduced can actually enhance horrors and McQuown has done a good job with the resources at his disposal. He's tailored a horror film with merit, which works thanks to earnest performances from a large ensemble, creepy atmosphere and a compelling anthology of horror stories. While many of the formats are familiar, McQuown adds a fresh twist.

The biggest setback in The Dark Tapes is that there's no clear cohesive narrative thread. The stories are choppy and dissimilar in format, rules and theme making it difficult to connect the dots and establish a fixed universe for the "found footage" tales. There's no central character, narrator or device to guide us through the tunnel of dark tapes... making the whole experience alienating and distancing the audience from each of the happenings. This keeps us ever-curious yet detached from the characters, who we never have enough time to invest in or trust. Perhaps these could have worked better if they were presented as short films.

While housed under the umbrella of horror, each story seems like a kernel for a full feature film rather than complete within themselves. It's entertaining by virtue of its unpredictable nature, but frustrating that we're never immersed in any of the environments long enough to form any attachment with the characters. Watching from an arm's length makes the experience hollow and while there are one or two great scares and clever twists... The Dark Tapes simply teases us with some promising starts with what could have been.

McQuown demonstrates his ability and knows the genre well, concocting some juicy horror set ups in the process, but unfortunately there's just not enough follow-through with The Dark Tapes. Perhaps having a better "bed" for all of the tapes to nestle in would make all the difference, giving us the platform to be creeped out rather than bewildered. There's loads of great stuff going on in The Dark Tapes, making it a pity it didn't work out better.

The bottom line: Alienating


 
Movie Review: Alison


Alison is the powerful true story of a South African woman, who reclaimed her life after being raped, disemboweled, nearly decapitated and left for dead. Directed by Uga Carlini, this part documentary, part docudrama and has been treated like a fairy tale, getting the inside story from various interviewees, who helped Alison along her journey. Sitting on a throne and set against sketches of the moments they witnessed, each are ascribed a fantasy title like Knight, Sage or Bard for their heroic efforts.

These insights are interwoven into a gritty docudrama as the film gets straight into the incident as Alison describes her thoughts and feelings in the build-up and aftermath of the brutal and senseless attack. These inserts star Christia Visser as a young Alison in a well-cast, equally honest and generous performance. Her experience playing the abused title character, Tess, makes the two films interlinked and must have made it easier for her to slip into the appropriate mindset. While there's no dialogue and the sexual violence isn't as graphic as it could have been, these scenes are intense and grisly. Zak Hendrikz takes on a difficult role as the perpetrator, Frans du Toit, whose evil seems limitless and without conscience.

Delving back to the incident through this dramatisation with the survivor narrating her own tale, this amazing true story is peeled away layer by layer as we investigate the medical, police and judiciary procedure following her brutal attack. From the man who stopped to help, the anesthetist who facilitated her care, the on duty police officer, her legal representative, writing partner, a work colleague friend and the judge who presided over her case, we get a well-rounded picture of the highly publicised crime and the process of healing and restoration.

Alison Movie

"..."

While the fairy tale and butterfly theme connect the dots and soften the harsh reality, the film functions like a comprehensive scrapbook filled with sketches, footage, photos, reports and newspaper clippings. The creative and eclectic frame for the story makes it more sentimental, intimate and gives it a homemade feeling as if Alison was bestowing her story as a gift to us. Her role as curator of the docudrama gives us a first-hand account of her journey through deeply honest and vulnerable storytelling as she shares her painful yet miraculous path.

Alison's inconsistent, yet the miraculous true story, artful design, intimate storytelling and emotional currency make this inspirational docudrama worth seeing. There are moments where Alison seems to be leaning towards self-promotion in echoing her motivational talks and bestselling book, 'I Have Life'. However, her "choose life" philosophy and heartfelt sincerity in helping others by sharing her tragedy and victory smooths things over, made all the more timely based on the judicial system's mishandling of the case. While it has a deckled edge, it's from the heart and makes a moving, honest, inspiring, self-empowering and detailed account of her story up until now.

The bottom line: Heartfelt


 
Movie Review: It's Complicated


It's Complicated is a short film directed by Grant De Sousa, starring Paul Snodgrass, Johann Vermaak and Lise Slabber. We follow two buddies as we discover that the someone (or something) that "swiped right" for Andy is now on their doorstep. Lovestruck, it seems that Nigel's desperate attempts to warn his friend of his girlfriend's obvious flaws are ignored. Poking fun at the Tinder and Facebook generation of scary hookups and relationship statuses, De Sousa explores these themes with tongue-through-cheek horror comedy romance. Employing a similar balance of horror comedy that you'd expect from Sam Raimi, he posits us in a similar conceptual and genre space to Warm Bodies.

Borrowing the comedy set up from The Odd Couple and infusing it with a similar tone to Men Behaving Badly helps us establish the character dynamic as Andy's nerdy, straitlaced vibe counterbalances Nigel's more relaxed, easy-going attitude. Paul Snodgrass shines as the "you can't be serious" Nigel, undertaking the perspective of the audience with an animated and entertaining performance. Johann Vermaak plays perfectly into his wardrobe selection as the blinded and inept "glass half full" lovefool. Together they have a good mix of equal-opposite chemistry, which is jeopardised by the arrival of the demure yet sinister Lise Slabber.

It's Complicated short film

"She's more like a ghoulfriend... friend."

Injecting the Samara meets Regan "girlfriend" into their apartment creates a number of scary funny moments. The apartment takes on a whole new light moving from two guys sharing an old place to a creepy old woman's home, making Andy and Nigel seem like the visitors. The sets have great detail, using retro props to bring out the ick factor. The visual effects are used sparingly and are so beautifully laced into the film that you hardly notice them, while simple camera tricks keep it modest yet effective.

It's no secret that It's Complicated has been influenced by horrors like The Ring and The Exorcist in determining the nature of their female lead. The make-up department took their time in getting her look and the "hicky" just right, playing up some horror clich├ęs to great comic effect in the process. The short film has a polished feel about it, delivering entertaining horror comedy and drawing us in with the doomed romance. It's a fine ensemble, further bolstered by the talents of Sean Cameron Michael in a fun cameo.

De Sousa has a good grip on this Halloween story, which was undoubtedly a passion project. While it works as a wraparound short film, you could easily see this horror romance comedy concept being extrapolated into a broader feature film length production or a sitcom even.

The bottom line: Entertaining

 
Movie Review: Gold


Gold is based on a true story. While it may be set in the '80s, instead of the '90s, change a few names and conjoin a few characters... the essence of the story lives on in this film about hitting the big time. Gold is something of a character portrait, blending adventure, entrepreneurship and biographical drama to tell the rags-to-riches story of down-on-his-luck prospector, Kenny Wells. Acting on a vision, he finds himself partnering with a geologist on a promising mining expedition in the jungles of Indonesia.

Matthew McConaughey outplayed Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, a Scorsese film that made McConaughey seem better suited to the titular role in a scene that was just too brilliant to leave out. While he ultimately won an Oscar for a transformative and career-best performance in Dallas Buyers Club, this chapter of his acting career wasn't over. In fact, it seems as though McConaughey's character in Gold is modeled or loosely inspired by these two performances. Carrying the audacious spirit and energy of his performance in The Wolf of Wall Street and mixing it with the drastic body transformation he underwent for Dallas Buyers Club, it boils down to Kenny Wells, an ambitious, balding and overweight self-starter.

No dream is too big for Wells, whose exuberance, lack of finesse and physique make him an underdog, despite his Homer Simpson complex. He may be a clown to his contemporaries, but his fighting spirit and surprising charm earns him respect in the big pond. It's a joy to see McConaughey relish the performance, deftly lacing together the romance of jungle adventure and minefield of big business. He's not alone, accompanied by the enigmatic Edgar Ramirez and heart-on-her-sleeve Bryce Dallas Howard, who act as wings for his likable yet bolshie performance.

Gold Movie

"We're going to be billionty rich!"

While the timeless themes, true story anchor and lead performance make Gold attractive and captivating, the screenplay and direction need polish. You get the impression the filmmakers were trying to make it look like it was filmed in the '80s for an added layer of authenticity. However, this just gives it a trashy overlay, which is accentuated by the shallow script. Perhaps they were going for something similar to The Infiltrator, which also leveraged a strong lead performance, a period setting, a true story and a gritty borderline trashy treatment. Unfortunately, while it aspires, it doesn't add up to the same level of entertainment value and seems like a missed opportunity.

Gold is tarnished by a lazy script, familiar notes and fairly uninspired direction. Yet, it's difficult to overlook Matthew McConaughey's transformation, his captivating full tilt performance, the incredulity of the true story and the entertaining yarn in all its flaws. Who doesn't want to watch a pulpy film about striking gold in a mysterious jungle and potentially realising your wildest dreams? Unfortunately, Gold makes this outlandish tale ordinary and mediocre.

The bottom line: Okay

 
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