The Poughkeepsie Tapes wrapped in late 2006, early 2007, and to this day, has yet to receive a US release. When considering the wide acclaim the film has been bestowed by those fortunate enough to see it, that’s a fairly surprising fact; however, after screening the picture, I’m inclined to believe that many a film pundit were a bit generous with this project, and, in all honesty, I’m not shocked that it hasn’t been picked up by a US distributor.
The film takes the mocumentary stance, and focuses in on a series of home video tapes discovered in – you guessed it – Poughkeepsie, New York. The tapes document one serial killer’s reign of terror on the East coast, as our faceless antagonist kidnaps, tortures and ultimately slaughters a slew of young women. It’s not a remarkably original telling, but it’s got some high points, there’s spirit in the project and it does indeed boast some eerie scenes (see the sequence in which the killer is crawling around on all fours in his torture chamber). Having said all that, The Poughkeepsie Tapes lacks the refinement showcased in many recent found footage features, and is sadly, anchored by some really shitty post production “techniques”.
While subjected to the legitimate documentary style shots, the picture looks great. The majority of performers in tow offer stellar work (a few will rub you the wrong way, including one particular scene in which a lab technician of some sort stands behind a table littered with various sharp objects, laughing about torture and dismemberment; that scene is just awkward as all hell, and should certainly be chopped if we’re ever given the chance to view this one on a wider scale), and the pacing of the picture works quite effectively, as the films 86 minute run time flies by in rewarding fashion (not because you’re anxious for the film to wrap, but because the story is fairly engrossing).
The picture’s largest flaws lie in the footage on the tapes themselves. The images are murky (to be kind), and virtually every shot that illuminates a female being a. tortured b. stalked or c. murdered is drenched in this strange undulating effect that initially feels eerie, but becomes highly annoying very quickly. I’ve still got old VHS tapes of my childhood in the 80’s, and I’ve never encountered this strange phenomenon once; believe me, my parents weren’t well off enough to purchase any high end camcorder. So, either this guy purchased the worst camera to ever hit the commercial market, or he’s doctored the apes himself, or so we are left to assume based on the terrible picture quality.
Another major issue I had with The Poughkeepsie Tapes is what I perceive as poor writing in the first act. We see this killer document his evolution as a human predator, but his early engagements occur in extremely unbelievable fashion. One young girl (I believe she’s said to be eight years old in the picture) is kidnapped in broad daylight, sitting in the lawn six feet from her front door. While this is certainly a tragedy that can and has happened, I highly doubt the perpetrators of true crimes of this nature were brazen enough to approach their victims with a camera in hand, engage them in conversation for a few minutes, and then pummel them in public, before hauling them a solid 30 feet to their automobiles parked across the street; it’s just too far a stretch.
There is more than one scene of this nature in this specific instance, and given the fact that these shots occur so early in the film, it was certainly difficult to discount what feels like lazy script writing en route to the film’s latter stages. The secret to a truly frightening horror offering lies in the logic and believability of the story itself, and there are just a few too many plot points that feel insanely distanced from logical. While scribes John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle attempt to explain away some truly strange maneuvers (at one point the killer attacks a woman in the front seat of a car, from the back; wrapping his right hand around her face while reaching around and filming with his left, although you can’t see a single element of his left arm, which just isn’t possible) it doesn’t work particularly well. Faults of this nature may seem minute, but they struck me as pronounced while screening the flick, and I didn’t buy into the attempted explanations for a second.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes definitely boasts an unnerving conclusion, and for that I applaud both John Erik and Drew Dowdle, however there are just a few too many technical deficiencies for me to compliment the film with the adamancy of past critics. The plot holes stood out in glaring fashion, the awkward performances are just a tad too distinct and that horrendous effect thrust on the tape footage really, really hinders the final product. This is an entertaining film, without question, but it’s a far cry from the masterpiece many would have you believe.
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