By Rowan Malyon.
A slow-burning but intense film, Tape is sparse in colour, staging, and in its message. Based on true events, this film does not shy away from the point it is trying to make about the entrenched sexual harassment in the entertainment industry.
Deborah Kampmeier’s film follows the mysterious and vengeful Rosa (Annarosa Mudd) as she records producer Lux (Tarek Bishara) in the process of assaulting Pearl (Isabelle Furhman), a struggling young actor, after she becomes the latest in a long line of “protégés”.
Though somewhat expository at times, the film does not have any reservations about discussing this unfortunately ubiquitous but unspoken problem. A non-traditional horror, Kampmeier captures the fears that women face every day. The audience should understand what kind of story this is going to be from around the 30 minute mark but the suspense built, the how, the where, and the why, keeps us hooked.
The film could not be more topical. In fact, Kampmeier references a few very recent, infamous rape cases in the US in the climatic final scene. Polanski, Cosby, these were high-profile cases, but Tape assures us that these things happen every day, in innocuous places, to people who never get their stories told.
Through bleak streets and empty apartments, Kampmeier captures the loneliness one can feel despite living in a bustling city, the loneliness that seeps from Pearl. Except she’s not alone.
Though at some points, the use of Rosa’s secret cameras can separate the audience from the action and is oftentimes clumsy, the film could not work without them. They are also a perfect conduit for the film’s overall message.
When Pearl looks into the camera hidden in a clock in Lux’s dark and foreboding “set”, she looks Rosa right in the eye, making her question the morality of her actions. But she also looks at us, asking us why we didn’t get involved. Why didn’t we stop this from happening? Why do we not speak up more when women need our help? The cameras make us as culpable as Rosa.
What’s more, when Lux tries to convince Pearl that sex scenes are not only something she will have to deal with as a real actress, but a necessity, something she will not succeed without doing, the camera is knocked out of line. We don’t see him coerce her, just as society turns its face away from abuse. His distorted voice does not belong to him anymore, it could be anyone’s, any of the countless abusers inside the industry and out of it.
Stark references to Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus remind us that this is not just a modern issue. It is something that has haunted society since it began, and the series of other videos that Rosa collects on her tablet illustrate this endless cycle.
Tape is gritty and realistic, perfectly capturing the anxieties of living as a woman, from the subtle microaggressions of the media and coercions from men in power, to simple things not often discussed, like Rosa’s obvious unease when she is escorted by a man twice her size, a man who obviously does not understand or even notice her discomfort. This film highlights how often women are forced to be alright with situations that make them uncomfortable, and how they are made to feel guilty when they react.
What is refreshing about Tape is that despite its seemingly unsatisfying ending, there is a different sort of triumph here. When Rosa holds Lux at gunpoint, it is a far-fetched and rather jarring climax to such a naturalistic film. However, the vacuum it creates allows for a very powerful scene in which the all-female witnesses discuss their own experiences of sexual assault. Unlike the tragic Lavinia, so often referenced by Rosa, the women in this film actually gain voice.
Despite its jumps between realism and fantasy, Tape is a good film about an important issue. It doesn’t lecture or push too hard, it simply holds a mirror up to its audience and to life, while Peal’s fated words ‘whatever it takes’ echo forebodingly in our ears.
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