THE BLACK TAPE
Firstly, I ‘d just like to say thanks to Writer/Director Ramone Menon, for allowing me early access to his directorial debut “The Black Tape”, before its official release in October. It’s part Horror, part Crime/Mystery and was shot for an estimated $50,000. The Black Tape is about Alana and Robert Wilson (played by Elina Madison and Allen Marsh), along with their three children Stephanie, Paul and Mary (Melanie Thompson, Parker Coppins and Viktoria Paje). They live in a quite neighborhood in suburbia America, but their world is turned upside down when an intruder breaks in planning to document a home murder film. The film also stars Bryan Jackson and Cassi Ellis. I contacted Ramone after I saw a teaser trailer that looked quite different. I’m a big fan of the Home Invasion sub-genre and am always on the look out for something new and unique.
Concept’s similar to The Black Tape have been covered before, but I liked that Ramone made you believe this could have been just a random tape that anyone could find. Not until the end does anyone’s name associated with the film actually pop up. As you can see on the above poster artwork, its been shot, cut, scored and sequenced by its fictitious maker and that’s an original marketing campaign so to speak. We are shown a disclaimer at the beginning telling us what we’re about to watch hasn’t been doctored in any way. From the outset I was impressed by the clarity in the dialogue. It’s made all the more impressive by the style in which the film is shot. The viewer spends most of the running time watching from the Intruders POV (point of view). They often have a camera with them while they are stalking the family, all of that footage was pretty well shot. At our core, we all have that voyeuristic nature in us. We want to know what’s behind the door or what people’s secrets are. Ramone takes that approach in The Black Tape and it offers up its fair share of eerieness and paranoia. My perception of the intent here, seemed to be to add some artistic flare to what might have otherwise been your typical home invasion caper. After seeing the film, I can’t help but think a more straight forward approach would have been the correct route.
The problem I found, were to many comparisons between this and a favorite film of mine titled “388 Arletta Avenue”. Stylistically they’ve traveled some of this ground already and even explored comparable themes in the aforementioned. This even paralleled the game of requests played in Bryan Bertino’s second-rate “Mockingbird” released late last year. The platform for the film is a decent one, but I was hoping it would go in another direction. The orchestral part of the score felt like a classic Horror film, and it heightened the level of insecurity you would have if put in a similar situation. The performances varied from tolerable to quite good. Elina Madison features quite heavily, especially in the second half of the film and she brings a certain amount of emotion to whats otherwise, a very one-dimensional character. Marsh is okay, he does enough with what’s on paper unfortunately Stephanie, the teenage daughter who just so happens to have the most interesting character arc, doesn’t get any real memorable screen time. I liked the inclusion of a faceless figure who appears to us on the tape, holding up signs revealing what the upcoming scenes may hold. If you get a bit confused with some of the plot details just wait, all will make sense come the end. The closing scenes were a nice touch but I won’t spoil what may, or may not be a twist.
Most of the technical things I didn’t agree with in the film were due to personal preference, it wasn’t anything Ramone did or didn’t do. For example, some of the score reminded me of Patrick Doyle’s music in “Sleuth”, which is one of my favorite films (the 2007 version). It sounded nice here but there’s no real cat and mouse game going on and it ends up feeling out-of-place. Same goes for the lighting. There’s an overuse of the blue and red palette that alter the tone, making this feel surreal when it’s not supposed to be. In any other themed film those sorts of layouts would highlight it. Some of the sound effects used during an attempted shock moment, were either implemented prematurely or you couldn’t see enough of what was happening to get the context. The mystery Intruder seemed far more sinister before they decided to start conversing with The Wilson’s. Once an agenda came to the surface albeit a fluff one, the raspy whispering from a feminine sounding voice on the end of the telephone telling the family what to do, had little to no sway in creating any sense of trepidation. As the situation between the mystery intruder and the family escalates, Robert, the man of the house contemplates not doing anything to potentially save a loved one. The viewer knows that’s never going to actually happen, and Why won’t it happen? Because it’s probably never happened before and wouldn’t be plausible if it did. Our loved ones are exactly that, and for a reason. That sequence of a supposed struggle could have been done away with completely because we knew the outcome.
The editing on the tape was sloppy, but for all intents and purposes I’m sure it was part of the fictional directors vision. However it still didn’t make for an easy watch, even less so when combined with high frequency grating sound effects. The Black Tape is more of a challenge to watch than it should be. Not for any obvious reason (at least to this viewer), it’s all revealed out of sequence, making some of the inner workings of the plot difficult to follow. Ramone could have incorporated a few scenes of the Intruder setting up some of their cameras and equipment. Yes that’s right, I forgot to mention that sections of the film play out on stationary cameras, like security would use. Initially I thought it was just a continuity issue and the intruder put the camera down, but it’s clear someone had to have placed all those cameras in the house when the family weren’t home. The identical plot point was used in “388 Arletta Avenue”. There were many scenes that had plenty of potential for suspense but never ended up reaching any great heights. Softening the blow somewhat, was the addition of some practical effects and an eventful finale. A motive out in the open for everyone to see isn’t always crucial to the success of these types of films. In many cases it depends on the level of character development, the amount of action or even who the film centers on. The Black Tape needed something more, there’s a missing piece of the puzzle here I just can’t put my finger on what it is.
Ramone couldn’t have known the expectations I had built up in my mind for The Black Tape. Even if he did I don’t think he could have ever fully met them, because I expect a fair bit (haha). It was difficult not to draw a lot of comparisons between this and the extremely underrated “388 Arletta Avenue”. Ramone’s film has a few distinctive differences in the way scenes transition and the overall presentation that are worth noting. The camera work and audio are both very well executed given this is his first time making a film. The actors/actresses were serviceable taking into account the limited details of their respective characters, and the finale helped finish things on a good note. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of the artistic choices they made fit the tone of a film like this. When coupled with some rapid editing, in a story told out of chronological order you can see how it’d be easy to lose your audience. There were some opportunities missed in relevance to the setup in act one, along with ideas that weren’t fully fleshed out later in the film. There’s some good building blocks here for future projects, so be sure to check this out when it’s released. Thanks again Ramone!
My rating for “The Black Tape” is 5/10