Tape Number 31 (2005)

Tape Number 31 reviewStarring Jo Yang

Directed by Agan

Your reaction to Tape # 31 is likely contingent on how you felt about The Blair Witch Project. If you were one of those folks that thought Blair Witch was an over-hyped, shaky cam cheapy, then you’re not likely to enjoy what Tape has to offer. However, if you’re one of the many that thought Blair Witch was a wildly inventive, intensely scary film, and a sign of good things to come from innovative independent horror cinema, then…umm, well, you’re actually not going to like Tape # 31, either.

The plot is simple; a team of eight documentary filmmakers set out to discover the wildmen said to be living in the remote mountain regions of mainland China. What makes this setup particularly interesting is that the legend of the wildmen is a real one, very similar to our North American Bigfoot legends. The thought of seeing a familiar story told from such an unfamiliar perspective is rather appealing, but this cultural obliqueness fails to materialize, as the film is largely a recycling of common reality horror clichés.

The film starts off promisingly, setting up the legitimacy of the wildmen via interviews with locals who have sighted what they describe as large apelike beasts who walk upright. Later, as the team ventures farther into the wilderness, they encounter footprints, odd markings carved into trees, and decomposed human remains. The final proof of the existence of the wildmen comes when the crew’s camp is stormed at night, leaving only strange, crop circle-like markings trampled into the long grass surrounding their tents.

The nighttime raid leaves the cameraman, Zachary, the only one who saw the attack, in a state of shock. Interestingly, Zachary is American, white, and tends to say “fuck” a lot in the company of his Chinese colleagues. Given his foreigner status, he is thought by the remaining members of the team to be, at minimum, a little odd, and at most, crazy and possibly even responsible for the attack himself. It’s interesting to see how Tape # 31 plays to a Western audience, as I suspect Zachary comes off a little more sympathetic to North American viewers, which may be why the audience I saw it with couldn’t fathom why the team didn’t pack up and head out as soon as Zach explains that the wildmen are not out to make friends. Let me be clear: The team isn’t lost, no one is injured, the weather is fine. They just inexplicably… decide to stay.

This decision results in the team slowly being whittled down from eight members to three via a bunch of boring, offscreen kills of the “walk-into-the-woods-alone-disappear-body-found-next-day” variety before they figure, “Hey, maybe we should leave now.”

Of course, more are killed on the trek out, but you won’t really care because the characters just kind of disappear, and the film never pays off its setup of the wildmen; you never see them. Apparently the wildmen of China emit electromagnetic waves, which causes DV cams to burst into static whenever they make an appearance (I shit you not, they actually state this in the epilogue). Snowy static might have been scary if it had prefaced the arrival of a bloodthirsty tribe of wildmen, but instead, the static itself takes the place of any kind of reveal. The only real scares Tape # 31 is going to elicit are cries of horror from a moviegoing public used to satellite, DVD and high definition. The wildmen from a dimension with bad reception are here to steal our viewing options!

1/2 out of 5

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Jon Condit