REVIEW: SX_TAPE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: BERNARD ROSE / SCREENPLAY: ERIC REESE / STARRING: CAITLYN FOLLEY, IAN DUNCAN / RELEASE DATE: JULY 28TH
Sx_Tape had a lot of festival buzz last year, despite a surprisingly lacklustre online presence, even on director Bernard Rose's own website. Rose is no stranger to the genre, directing the cult favourite Candyman 21 years ago.
He opts for the POV angle here, lamented somewhat in recent years but still capable of churning out a good result now and then, e.g. , Grave Encounters, and keeping with the camera premise, Paranormal Activity. Sx_Tape borrows heavily from all three of these, reinforcing the concept that nothing is original any more, just reconstructed from other pieces.
The film starts with much promise, following camera-obsessed Adam (Duncan) filming his extrovert girlfriend Jill (Folley) while looking for a suitable venue to shoot a sex tape. A simple and silly premise perhaps, but without it there'd be no film. The venue turns out to be an abandoned hospital in downtown Los Angeles.
Despite the abandoned hospital, the first half of the film is surprisingly refreshing and clever. Many clichés are instantly avoided – the film takes place during the day, there is mobile phone reception, and the characters leave the hospital at the first sign of trouble. But then they call their friends to meet them, and they all go back in.
The fear and uncertainty is a slow burner, the genre's standard loud sounds and flash scares are efficiently used and Folley carries the film well, interacting with the unseen Adam while reluctantly creeping towards the unknown in a dark room or corner. Unfortunately the second half of the film goes rapidly downhill, with an obvious and ridiculous twist and a confusing and unsatisfying ending, which seems tacked on as a last resort. The aforementioned Grave Encounters and Paranormal Activity borrowings seem obvious, as well as shadows of other recent horror flicks Mama and Woman in Black, but ultimately it's far less frightening than any of them, with some of the scare gags even being unintentionally comedic.
What started as a very promising film ultimately becomes a let down, and a disappointing return to horror from someone who could have done much better.