A “found footage” horror anthology gets a seasonal spin in The Christmas Tapes, but it’s only further proof as to why these projects are a tough task to pull off.
The wraparound story holding the short films together offers a point-of-view from a band new videocamera (ala Coppers’ Camera), gifted to a young film buff by her family on Christmas Eve. Their quiet night is interrupted by Geoff, a charming stranger who is out a car and a phone and looking for assistance. Before you can say “humbug”, Geoff has taken the family hostage at gunpoint. He opens up a bag full of sketchy VHS tapes – movies he claims are unappreciated gems – and forces the family to watch his selected picks. Meanwhile, Geoff directs the kid behind the camera to get the perfect shot of their kidnapped family being terrified so that he can make his own movie. Geoff is played by Greg Sestero of The Room and the author of The Disaster Artist, and he’s perfect as a smarmy villain. The performance may come easy because he’s worked with filmmakers Robert Livings and Randy Nundlall Jr. before (this year’s Infrared).
Geoff shows his “audience” four “movies”: Travel Buggies (a vlogging couple’s latest adventiure goes sideways in the snow), The Christmas Gift (a man’s idea for a surprise is compromised by a crooked Santa), Untitled (body cam footage of a malfunctioning courier service), and The Christmas Spirit (a young couple’s new house is cursed by a paranormal entity attached to a box of ornaments). The last short, while the most derivative, is the strongest flick due to its cast (which includes a subtly hilarious performance by Dave Sheridan [Scary Movie, Ghost World] as socially needy investigator Paranormal Perry). My least favourite was Untitled, which was fittingly stressful but also irritatingly frantic.
Whether it’s Geoff cueing up another tape or lingering hesitation by any of the characters in the individual stories, The Christmas Tapes does a good job building tension. There were points where I caught myself squinting my eyes and squirming away from the screen because the build-up was, appropriately, playing me like a fiddle. However, the scenes and payoffs surrounding these moments are too staged and corny to be as genuine. And because these are their own stories, viewers are subjected to obligatory exposition and redundant backstories which drags out the movie.
I wish The Christmas Tapes did more with its premise and potential instead of settling for something far less inspired. I wanted an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, and I ended up with a football.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie
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