Twenty years ago writer/director Bernard Rose made something of a splash with his seminal adaptation of Clive Barker’s short story THE FORBIDDEN, reimagined as CANDYMAN. It launched a franchise (although the less said about that the better) and the cult career of Tony Todd (ditto). Rose went on to direct the acclaimed IMMORTAL BELOVED, a biography of Beethoven starring Gary Oldman, and two adaptations of Tolstoy stories. Not a bad résumé. If anyone could make found footage interesting, then, surely it would be him? Not on the evidence of SXTAPE, which Rose directed last year from a script from first-timer Eric Reese. Meandering, tedious and devoid of a single scare, it’s a strong contender for the dullest horror film of the year.
As a reviewer, SXTAPE is one of those movies that proves doubly frustrating – first you have to waste ninety minutes watching it, then you have to squander more precious time talking about it. As such, I’m going to keep this brief. Here’s what you need to know about SXTAPE: it’s terrible. As a conceit it’s promising (I’m only surprised it took someone this long to combine found footage horror and homemade sex tapes), but the execution is awful. In the absence of a plot (seriously, nothing happens), all it has to offer is the opportunity for cheap titillation. Although the characters talk about sex a lot (a lot), and lead Caitlyn Folley bares a little flesh, the onscreen antics will seem laughably tame to anyone with an internet connection. So what does that leave us? A witty script? Hardly. Reese’s dialogue is flat and one-dimensional. An interesting story? Nope. Most of the film involves two people wandering around an abandoned hospital (yawn) and bickering. Rounded, engaging characters? Not a chance! Despite spending an hour and a half in their company (although it feels like longer), we don’t even begin to get to know the cast. Nor would we want to. Irritating and unpleasant, it took all of fifteen minutes for me to decide I couldn’t care less if they lived or died. At least a few scares along the way? Sadly, no. I’ve watched more than my share of bad horror films, and I struggle to recall one so comprehensively shiver-free.
I’m trying to think of a single positive thing to say about SXTAPE, and I can’t. On top of the nonexistent plot and irksome characters, the location is as hackneyed and uninspired as they come, the performances are amateurish at best, and not even a cursory effort has been made to transcend the limitations of the form. There’s nothing of the style or wit of vintage Rose – any journeyman director could have been behind the camera. All of which begs the question, what’s the point? The genre is already inundated with bland, forgettable found footage, so why make another? If you’re looking for answers, you won’t find them in SXTAPE.