Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: July 15, 2014) With 1988's intoxicating dark coming-of-age fantasy "Paperhouse" and 1992's scorchingly effective horror film "Candyman," Bernard Rose took off running as an innovative filmmaker to watch. Excepting 1994's Ludwig van Beethoven biopic "Immortal Beloved" and a handful of smaller features that never received much attention stateside, the director's career has never quite taken off as it should. That he is now helming a supernatural found-footage movie called "SX_Tape" is almost surreal. It is a trajectory that one could never have guessed from his innovative efforts of twenty-plus years ago. His latest feature straddles the line between being junky and a legitimately skillful psychological thriller. It is technically well made and lead actress Caitlyn Folley (2005's "Happy Endings") is something of a dynamo, the camera focused on her for the majority of the running time. Some lame stylistic tricks during the "scare" scenes and a labored screenplay by first-timer Eric Reese that stretches the boundaries of plausibility are the elements that most significantly betray the finished product. It is difficult to become fully absorbed in goings-on when the characters keep having to deal with plummeting IQs.
Horny Los Angelenos Adam (Ian Duncan) and Jill (Caitlyn Folley) are most definitely in the honeymoon stage of their relationship, and Adam refuses to put down the camera that he has forever pointed in his girlfriend's direction. When they come upon the derelict Vergerus Institute for Troubled Women, they naturally decide to sneak through a fence opening and a chained-up gate to explore the hospital. To them, it seems like the perfect place for painter Jill to stage an art show (how she would procure a permit for such a thing is apparently not on their laundry list of concerns). After getting suitably creeped out by the darkened corridors and abandoned personal items and medical equipment left behind, they flee from the building only to discover their car has been towed. When Jill's horrifically irresponsible friends Elly (Diana Garcia) and Bobby (Chris Coy) come to pick the couple up, they instead decide to stick around and take a peek inside, too.
It is at this point in "SX_Tape" where most viewers will turn their rolling eyes into full-on palm slaps to the forehead as the characters wander about even after they have seen visions of a likely spectral woman draped in a hospital gown prowling the hallways. Things only get stranger and more disconnected from reality thereafter, but, as ill-advised as the script is, there is still no denying that director Bernard Rose knows how to conjure a particularly heavy mood and sense of unease. The performance he gets from Caitlyn Folley is eye-grabbing, far better than the film of which it is in service, while Chris Coy (2014's "Deliver Us from Evil"), in the thankfully brief role of Bobby, essays one of the most irritating and distasteful antagonists in some time. When all the pieces are unveiled, the grim, unsparing finale almost makes the viewer see the picture in a fresher, better-informed light. Almost. Being compelled to sit through it a second time, however, is a more troublesome proposition.
"SX_Tape" is supposed to be raw footage taken from the point of view of Adam's digital camera, and as such it is not the most attractive of images. There is intentional pixilation and the occasional blockiness to the Blu-ray's 1080p transfer, but there is also a strong amount of detail to its high-def, low-light source material. This isn't the kind of film that is going to visually blow its audience away, but it looks fine for what it is. Dialogue is always clear, but the 5.1 HD-DTS Master Audio is front-heavy and unexciting with few instances of the soundtrack taking advantage of its back channels.
- The Making of "SX_Tape" (15:03, HD)
- Theatrical Trailer #1 (1:52, HD)
- Theatrical Trailer #2 (2:06, HD)
Well Go USA's Blu-ray release of "SX_Tape" comes with an incisive making-of featurette that packs a lot of information into a compact fifteen minutes. The cast and crew gush about the film, so it is a bit of a letdown that the movie proper isn't worthier of the praise they have for it. Reminiscent of a found-footage version of Brad Anderson's exceptional 2001 gem "Session 9"but not nearly as smart"SX_Tape" might be of interest for horror fans or anyone who is curious about Bernard Rose's latest effort. For them, a rental is in order. All others can probably skip this trip to the asylum.