March 31, 2020 Tape (Movie Review)
They say if one saw how factory sausages were made then they would never have sausages again. The same could be said of the entertainment industry, where one’s dreams of entertaining people- artistically or otherwise- can get crushed under the heel of bureaucracy, creative meddling, capitalism and more. For others, like women, it can be worse. The list of victims of coercion, violence, and abuse in Hollywood alone includes a mix of backstage staff, company executives, and famous actors both past and present.
This all in mind, and inspired by true events, comes the film Tape. In a Deadline article, Writer/Director Deborah Kampmeier (Virgin 2003, Hounddog 2007) stated “Tape is based on my dear friend’s true story. Making this film gave her a voice. Oftentimes the silencing of a woman’s voice after an act of violence or coercion can be as damaging as the act itself. We hope our film brings voice and relief to others whose stories have been silenced.”
Pivoting to a Virtual Theatrical release on March 27th, and scheduled for streaming April 10th via Full Moon Films, Tape follows Rosa (Annarosa Mudd: Radium Girls 2018, Spy Intervention 2020), an actress who places hidden cameras on herself and in her dark studio. She uses them to stalk Pearl (Isabelle Fuhrman: Orphan 2009, The Hunger Games 2012), the rising star of a producer called Lux (Tarek Bishara: Time Out of Mind 2014, The Tale 2018). However, she is not after Pearl – she wants to document Lux’s screen test process. She wants to gather as much footage as she can of what powerful men can do to women behind closed doors and expose it to the world. Though, as she recalls her own past experiences, her biggest doubt is whether the ends justify her means.
Overall, Tape is promising, and comes from a personal place, but does it come together? Well, the film certainly does not mince its message with its intro, showcasing an arrangement of artwork depicting Lavinia from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. It is not exactly as famous as Romeo & Juliet or Macbeth, but the off-putting illustrations of the character make the comparisons clear enough to everyone. It does not look particularly subtle until the intro shifts into the film properly, revealing them to be cards stuck in Rosa’s bathroom. It reflects how the character sees herself and what her mission is. After all, despite losing her voice, Lavinia still revealed what happened to her.
Being about a character covered in cameras, the film shifts between diegetic and non-diegetic cameras. When it is not from Rosa’s hidden cameras, or the actual film cameras, it comes from Lux’s screen test camera. Each are of differing quality, separating them stylistically from each other- Rosa’s cameras are blurry as they try to auto-focus on the nearest person, Lux’s is clear and has a visible UI.
The cuts between one set of eyes and another, or even to the non-diegetic camera, can be a little tricky to keep up with but it does not lose the audience. Like the point behind the viewpoint becomes apparent quite quickly. The desaturated color across all camera views adds to that cold atmosphere Rosa’s stalking gives off. It certainly makes one more sympathetic for Pearl as she is caught between the duelling gazes of Rosa and Lux. The acting further sells it, between Fuhrman’s Pearl wondering where her limits lie, the determinism of Mudd’s Rosa, and Bishara’s Lux, who takes the cake as he gradually reveals his true nature.
There is that lingering threat Rosa is after, though was there a better way of getting the warning out than stalking? Perhaps it relates to how Kampmeier sees herself in putting her friend’s experience on camera and how voyeuristic cinema can be. Only she likely got permission to get the word out in this form. As a film, it is certainly effective at raising questions both artistically and generally about itself and its topic.
This certainly makes the film interesting, but does it make it good? Well, it has some bugbears. Some of its artistic touches do not land as effectively as others. The Lavinia cards explain enough without adding quotes from Titus Andronicus, verbal explanation, and the character’s key scene in the 1999 Julie Taymor adaptation. Whereas the film’s climax involving all three characters does not hit as hard as it should, likely because the sparks of tension only crop up amongst tedium as little happens but clunky dialogue. One gets what is happening and one feels for the characters, yet the reaction to the climax should be of shock and not relief.
So, does Tape come together? Just about. The intentions are strong, the acting is good, and the camera work is intriguing. Yet it might have been more effective with smoothed-out dialogue and tighter editing to keep the tension built up in the end. As it is, the film is just okay. If one is after a Thriller of this nature, this will do, as it is solid enough. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Tape 3 out of 5 stars.