Just hit record, Judge Gordon Sullivan.
Some tapes shouldn't be made.
There are certain primal reactions seemingly programmed into our brains. When we encounter something new, before we're even aware of it, our brain is already asking questions. First, can it kill me? Then, can I eat it? After that, how can I use it to procreate, aka get myself more sex? This is at least part of the reason why the world of pornography is on the vanguard of technology—bringing people closer to sexuality is a valuable commodity. As the rise of "sexting" scandals proves, humans will use any new technology for the purposes of sex. So, it's kind of surprising that it took this long into the history of the found-footage horror genre to build an entire film around a couple whose interest seems to mainly be filming themselves having sex. The result, SX_Tape, is pretty terrible, but there might be a kernel of a good idea lurking in their somewhere.
Jill (Caitlyn Folley, Happy Endings) is an artist scouting for the location of her next edgy gallery show. Adam (Ian Duncan, The Mists of Avalon) is her boyfriend, who ostensibly carries a camera around to help her document possible locations. Really, he does it to film them having as much sex as possible. The couple stumble on an abandoned mental hospital, and though it's boarded up, the couple enter and find that it houses some secrets. Those secrets include the fact that the place was used to dump pregnant unwed women and lobotomies were on the menu.
It's easy to forget, with all the shenanigans that happen in the second season of American Horror Story that the storyline opens with a couple of sexual thrill-seekers breaking into an abandoned mental institution because of its infamous reputation. That couple is menaced by "Bloodyface" and nasty things happen. SX_Tape is basically the film that would happen if you told that couple's story with a found-footage twist. Which is to say that the best thing I can say is that it starts out with a solid premise. Everything after that is strictly downhill.
I know it's not the filmmakers' fault, but reality is quite a bit scarier than this film. In between the making of the film and its release it was discovered that an Irish home had been covering up the abuse of women and children for decades when a mass grave of over 700 youth was discovered. Compared to that true, existential horror, the few hackneyed bumps and bangs that "haunt" SX_Tape seem inadequate. And that's even after you grant that the film is trading in the usual "mental hospitals equal lobotomies" cliche.
Then, of course, there's the fact that the film tries to sell viewers on the sexual angle. Aside from a couple of shots of hanky-panky, the film pretty much fails in this regard as well. When done right, mixing horror and sexuality leads to a dangerous feeling that's arousing because it's dangerous and dangerous because it's arousing. SX_Tape would rather traffic in a bit of adolescent voyeurism than anything more substantial.
Considering the level of talent involved—names associated with the likes of Candyman and the Paranormal Activity films are responsible—it's a shame that they can't make more of the film. The problem ultimately lies with the script from first-time scribe Eric Reese. We know these characters from previous films, we know this plot from previous films, and nothing about the found-footage aspect feels fresh enough to excuse all this re-treading.
Surprisingly, the film gets a solid Blu-ray release. This is the kind of film that's never going to look reference-quality, but the 1.85:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is good. Black levels are the main standout, with lots of good shadow detail and consistent depth. Detail is also pretty strong. Colors are a bit subdued, but that seems intentional. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is even better. This film can really only generate scares from bumps and scrapes, so they have to come from all over the sound field. Dialogue is clear from the front, and the low channel and surrounds get a good bit of use.
Extras include a making of featurette and the film's trailer.
SX_Tape is scraping the bottom of the found-footage barrel. It has an interesting premise—naughty adult fun interrupted by the paranormal—but is neither particularly sexy or scary. Those who do venture into the wilds of this asylum will find a strong audiovisual presentation and an okay featurette. Only masochists and die-hard found-footage fans need apply.
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