The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a 2007 documentary-style horror film directed by John Erick Dowdle, otherwise known for genre fare like As Above So Below, Devil, and Quarantine, a trio of horrors I am familiar with, but have not yet reviewed or talked about. The cast includes Bobbi Sue Luther, Samantha Robson and Ivar Brogger, to name a few. For lower budget horror fans, Bobbi Sue Luther has also been seen in the slasher film Laid to Rest.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes received little fare from critics and audiences alike and so I don’t have a lot of information in-regards to what general consensus is for the film. It does appear to at least have a following of some kind online, likely attributed to its aesthetic and visual style.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes was completed in 2007 and was originally meant for release in early-2018, the film found itself abruptly shelved, until having a brief release on home video in 2014, and it wasn’t until late-2017 the film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray by Scream Factory. Perhaps its obscurity has instilled a certain mystique into the film.
The film documents the murders of a fictional serial killer in Poughkeepsie, New York, and is told through interviews comprised of experts, witnesses, the family of various victims, and, also, the footage from the killer’s stash of snuff movies.
For starters, I want to say I really like the concept of this film and it is a concept I would like to see experimented with more and eventually perfected. Although there is a lot of understandable intrigue as far as serial killers are concerned, with how their minds work and the simple audacity of the acts they have committed, it isn’t the best precedent to set that actual serial killers are so often adapted into mainstream film.
The concept of this film allows a documentary style approach, depicting the victims and the acts committed against them, while, at the same time, not exploiting actual victims. At times, we find ourselves lost with our fascination with criminals and their acts that we often glamorize and don’t express enough that they are terrible, terrible human beings and their victims didn’t deserve to die and don’t deserve to have what was done to them exploited into a big budget film, regardless of how intrigued we may be.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes does well at creating the aesthetic of an actual documentary, but, unfortunately, in some instances, it should be noted that it does plunder with some jarring performances. I don’t necessarily think they make-or-break the film, but, at the same time, I don’t think I came across any acting that helps to superbly make the film either. I enjoyed the teacher featured in this film, who did his best to play-up the toll seeing serial killers can take, but, at the same time, I can’t say that everyone else delivered their performances with the level of realism needed for a concept like this to flourish and succeed.
The scenes involving the serial killer are creepy and fittingly disturbed, highlighting the odd eccentricities that he had. The film opts against violence, instead, coasting on the imagery itself, and, in most regards, it is effective. I do have some criticisms with how the scenes are presented.
In-during sequences where the killer preys on his victims, the scenes feature eerie music and sound incorporated for dramatic effect, which, keeping with the aesthetic of it being a mock-documentary, is a peculiar decision.
I find that silence can speak volumes when it is implemented and I believe that would have been suitable in this film.
The footage is intentionally obscured and shoddy in-nature, with the approach meant to come across as a home-movie and meant to highlight its imperfections and suggest that this is, in-fact, not a film being watched. Unfortunately, it reminds us of one of the worst pitfalls in a found-footage film – it is difficult to see what is occurring in-front of you. I can understand the motive behind this, but it doesn’t make a whole of sense for such an intelligent serial-killer who cares enough to record his victims as masterpieces would be recording said footage on a potato.
The actor who plays the serial killer delivers a creepy performance, particularly in scenes that involve conversations with children. A sequence involving himself in the vehicle with one of his victims has some of the films’ creepier, more uncomfortable moments.
The story-line itself suspends a lot of disbelief, and is one of the bigger criticisms I have, with the killer being far more impervious than what is realistic, and the police department being far more inept than what they should be. Certain aspects of the behavior and the analysis provided from characters can feel sometimes pedestrian or even cliche, sometimes feeling as though it is checking things off from a psychology textbook.
I did enjoy certain details, certain ways the department advanced themselves in their investigation, and I appreciate they kept a distance between ourselves and the serial killer.
The film understands the most interesting aspect about a serial killer is that we don’t understand them, and it doesn’t squander that intrigue, choosing to shroud him in mystery rather than provide a character study. Unfortunately, he feels a little too much like he was meant to be the serial killer of all serial killers, the worst of the worsts, and that proclamation falls a little flat.
I would recommend this film for those interesting such a concept, and I think it really does bolster some eerie moments that, although I think could have been done better, could still be effective to the right person. I like the concept of this film, but I think it could have used a tighter, more polished story and that it could have went a little further with its execution of the documentary gimmick.