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  • Benjamin May

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007) Review

There is nearly nothing as viscerally entertaining as a well-made, low budget, found-footage horror film. Terrific, clever movies like 'Man Bites Dog, 'Creep' and 'The Blair Witch Project' are proof of this notion. There needn't be a whole lot of capital invested for a good director with a good script to be able to produce something entertaining, or at the very least original.

'The Poughkeepsie Tapes' suffers from having- and being- none of the above. The derivative screenplay and its story are awful, the performances are stilted when they're not over-the-top and Shawn Dufraine's cinematography is constantly shaky and overly grainy (even for a found footage flick) making it incredibly difficult to watch. In short, the product of John Erick Dowdle's direction here is a total mess of a movie.

The film is about a stash of snuff films found in an abandoned house in Poughkeepsie, New York. Interviews with the local authorities in an attempt to catch the serial killer on the tapes prove fruitless, and the fiend seems to be getting more and more audacious and meticulous as his murderous spree continues.

It's a very depressing, repetitive and borderline misogynistic affair that offers the viewer no entertainment value whatsoever. Ugly looking and poorly written, it is completely devoid of anything original; offering viewers nothing but cheap perversion. Who wants to watch eight-year-old girls as they are raped and murdered, or countless women as they're tortured in increasingly barbaric ways? For that matter, who wants to make a film like that? No-one- besides John Erick Dowdle, it seems.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so offensive if the script was well-written, or if Dowdle had any ideas for the movie at all beyond making women suffer; but it isn't and he doesn't. It's a cheap rip-off of better films like 'Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,' or the great 'Man Bites Dog;' two movies with similar plots executed with style and skill in front of and behind the camera. There is nothing in 'The Poughkeepsie Tapes' but poorly photographed violence, cruelty and pain- and Dowdle doesn't have anything interesting to say about any of it.

What's worse, though, is that the film is a technical disaster as well as a creative one. The cinematography is terrible, looking like it was shot by someone who actively hated the project they were working on, and wanted to destroy it. When it isn't shaky, it's grainy, and when it's both- which is most of the time- you can barely see a thing on screen. In fact, that's almost a positive; as watching nothing would be preferable to having to sit through 'The Poughkeepsie Tapes' again.

There isn't a good performance in the film, but this fault probably lies with Dowdle's direction rather than with the actors. None of them are given anything interesting to do but scream or recite the poorly written dialogue from the banal screenplay- it's unsurprising no-one comes across as having performed admirably. Dowdle wrote the film with his brother Drew; it's scary to think what a family gathering at their house must look like if this film is what they consider fit for public consumption.

How this is so highly rated- and how numerous reviewers find it a positive experience- is beyond reason. It's boring, unimaginative and ineptly made. If you want to watch a violent horror film made by talented people with fresh ideas about the genre, watch 'Man Bites Dog'. In fact, watch anything at all, just avoid 'The Poughkeepsie Tapes'. It's nothing but a waste of your time.


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