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August 30, 2015

The Poughkeepsie Tapes

by Franz Patrick


Poughkeepsie Tapes, The (2007)
★★ / ★★★★

The premise of “The Poughkeepsie Tapes,” directed by John Erick Dowdle, is an interesting one because although it belongs under the found footage sub-genre, it does not involve supernatural occurrences to try to scare the wits out of the viewers. Instead, its content is presented as an investigation by means of interviewing various experts, from forensic pathologists, FBI field agents, police offers, to medical technicians, and presenting the images contained within the videotapes that the serial killer left behind. One can choose whether or not to believe in ghosts, but it is certain that there are many serial killers out there who have not been caught—and may never get caught.

The film makes a few severe miscalculations that break the realism it creates. When certain supposedly real footages are shown, like the abduction of a little girl who is playing with dolls in her family’s yard, a dramatic score can be heard and eventually reaches a crescendo. A person may or may not believe that the tapes are real, but the fact is this: the movie is presenting its content as potentially real. Thus, it must be evaluated within the parameters or standards of the sub-genre.

Why add an eerie score to an already chilling course of action? What this scene, and others like it, communicates is a lack of confidence in the images being shown. We all have that fear of a complete stranger walking up to a child, interacting with him or her, and then taking the child for a ride. A score that functions to underline the importance of the scene is unnecessary because we already have a gut reaction to it. Clearly, sometimes less is more.

Some of the images are extremely difficult to see. While a certain level of graininess, lack of light, and ambiguity is required, there are full sequences here where we can walk away for two minutes and not miss a thing. Why? Because we can listen to the sounds and imagine a more horrific encounter than the obfuscatory images.

Its strength lies in some the extended sequences of a tape’s content. A particular standout involves the killer breaking into the Dempsey house while Cheryl, a home alone teenager whose parents are away, is in the shower. The way it unfolds is frightening because there is a mechanical calm to the man holding the camera. He makes sudden movements only when absolutely necessary. The sequence tells us a lot about him. First, it may not be the first time he has snuck into someone’s home to spy on them. Second, we see how patient he is. For example, he does not attack his victim in the shower because she is expecting her boyfriend to arrive at any time. He waits until the opportunity is exactly ripe for the picking.

“The Poughkeepsie Tapes,” written by Drew Dowdle and John Erick Dowdle, is also quite engaging when certain experts are in front of the camera. Most creepy is when an FBI field agent is walking around a property pointing to us which specific areas contained corpses and how mutilated they were. It is only three minutes into the picture and already we understand that what we are dealing with is a monster with an insatiable dark passenger.

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