Directed By: John Erick Dowdle
“What kind of a sick fucking monster does that?”
It seems so long ago since The Last Broadcast but here we have what is arguably a direct descendant of that movie. Though does it do it any better?
The first time I had heard of this movie it was at when currently-shamed website Ain’t It Cool News held a screening of it, hyping it up to a packed crowd and informing them that yes, this was totally real. As you can imagine, it didn’t take the crowd long to know that wasn’t the case.
There’s a good idea in The Poughkeepsie Tapes somewhere. In an abandoned house hundreds of videotapes are found detailing a serial killer’s reign of terror through the years. This is framed around various interviews and news footage detailing the efforts of the FBI to catch him. Suffice to say they never do because one incredibly annoying thing about this movie is that killer is perfect in every way. Listen, serial killers exist. Sadly I would say that there are plenty of killers out there who have recorded their crimes. I daresay that plenty of serial killers also never get caught. There’s no need to make your killer the greatest criminal mind ever. Instead of being disturbing as the filmmakers intend, he comes across as a Sherlock villain. Spoilers, but at one point we learn that a police detective is arrested, put on trial and then executed for the spate of deaths in what was a frame job by the real killer. It’s incredibly stupid and in narrative terms it really serves no purpose. It’s just so the movie can once again tell us that this guy is really good at being a criminal.
The ‘highlights’ of the movie are the tapes themselves. I use that term very loosely, however. One mark against them is that the tapes are made to look like worn down VHS tapes and while I appreciate the dedication to the aesthetic, it also makes it hard to understand just what’s happening. I could accept the confused, disoriented feeling if I thought that was the intention, but it doesn’t appear that way. The content of the tapes, however, are uniformly disturbing and effective, even while it feels as though the movie can’t help but indulge in being needlessly edgy and cruel. It’s really not hard to imagine a couple of people sitting in a room and just thinking of the most fucked up stuff they can think of. As a writer, I do plenty of that myself, but I also know that just being fucked up is meaningless without something behind it.
I think my ultimate problem with The Poughkeepsie Tapes is that its kind of boring. I’ve always hated using that word in relation to anything because it’s so easy and doesn’t really say anything of worth. But I’m going with the dictionary definition here. We get a lot of talking head interviews about how fucked up this guy is and then they show us as he does something fucked up. As a result, there’s no real drive to the movie. We see the killer escalating his crimes until there’s nowhere else to go, which is a point we reach real early in the movie. After that, it’s variations on the same scene over and over until the end, in which the movie ends with a spooky “he could be watching this in the cinema with you right now” threat.
What should be noted is that a lot of the performances, particularly by the women in the movie, are fantastic and are the sole reason that the titular tapes work as well as they do. It’s unfortunate that nearly all the women in the movie are asked to be victims (Come on guys, you’re making a work of fiction, you couldn’t give women something a bit more to do?), but they do the absolute best with what they’re given. I just wish they had a better showcase for it.