Directed by Bernard Rose.
Cast: Caitlyn Folley, Ian Duncan, Chris Coy, Diana Garcia, Julie Marcus.
2014 85 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for strong graphic violence, sexual content, nudity and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 10, 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.