Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Poughkeepsie Tapes


Like a privately educated shark or Carol Vorderman with a shotgun, serial killers are the winning combination of smart, deadly and, most importantly, fascinating. Unlike the first two (with the possible exception of Ice Cube’s worst nightmare in Deep Blue Sea) there have been an uncountable multitude of stories based on serial killers, from in depth police procedurals to twisted and gruesome portrayals of ‘real life’ events. Whether Ed GeinJohn Wayne Gacy or Charles Manson there are some pretty fucked up people out there who have in turn inspired some pretty fucked up fictional characters.

They really can't
The Poughkeepsie Tapes tries to blur fantasy and reality by framing the story as a serial killer profile documentary. The story is revealed through talking head interviews, re-enactments and most importantly, and conveniently, clips from a whole rack of video tapes found in the killer’s house which document his twisted endeavours. Mixing the common found footage main stays with documentary presentation the story follows a pretty conventional serial killer path, as dictated by real life and fiction, with the perpetrator becoming cleverer and more calculated as their crimes progress. It ticks off a number of clich├ęs with the killermuch like Sting’s bodyguard, always one step ahead of The Police, a series of investigators who find themselves disturbed and mentally scarred by what they have witnessed.
The killer’s penchant for the theatrical is used to excuse his relentless use of his home camera, as well as some of his more interesting costume choices (most notably a cape and Jacobean ruff). He films his violent acts long before, during and after, leaving plenty of room for typical found footage normality leading up to conveniently dropped camera angles of gruesome outbursts. This attribute allows for the more calculated cinematography whilst he films the torture and lives out his thespian delusions. The camera quality used by the killer is terrible, purposefully so, but as the colours distort and the tracking obscures the objects on screen it became a struggle to watch. If this man was so concerned about performing on film, you think he would at least want to buy himself a half decent camera.
Everything here seems to be done to demonstrate conventional serial killer plot points, the disturbed police investigator in too deep ie. Manhunter, the unrepentant killers perspective ie. Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and the sympathy for the tortured victims ie. Martyrs. The problem is that The Poughkeepsie Tapes never delves deep enough into a single one of those elements to deliver a satisfying pay off. It instead presents us with a brief and shallow portrayal of each element in a way that feels too caught up in its own ambitious ideas to realise how much more of an engaging story there was to be told.
This amalgamation of serial killer tropes is obviously the result of someone with an interest and passion for the subject. Real life events act as inspiration, even using Ted Bundy as a Hannibal Lecter-esque inside man, an obvious attempt to plant the story even deeper in the real world. In the end, wide reaching factual accuracy is chosen in sacrifice of storytelling. Maybe that was the plan, sticking rigidly to the documentary formula which, if it weren’t for some pretty shoddy acting, could have been pretty convincing. I would have at first believed I was watching a crappy documentary if I had stumbled into a room where it was playing on some digital real crime TV channel. Cracks would show pretty damn quickly with the obviously overly graphic and narrative driving use of the titular tapes. If you want an engaging story you can watch Se7en or Zodiac. Iyou want a view of the factual workings of a serial killer there are plenty of documentaries about real criminals that would be far more interesting. The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a commendable stab (well, kidnap, bind, torture and disfigure) at trying to be all of the above but misses the target for all of them.

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