Studio: Well Go USA
Director: Bernard Rose
Writer: Eric Reese
Producer: Eric Reese, Steven Schneider, Chuck Simon
Stars: Caitlyn Folley, Chris Coy, Diana Garcia, Julie Marcus, Ian Duncan
A daring couple is haunted by paranormal activity while attempting to film a sex tape inside an abandoned mental asylum.
Despite beginning its transition into senior living community condos in 2013, there still seems to be no short supply of regularly released horror films shot inside the abandoned walls of Los Angeles’ old Linda Vista Hospital. Presumably, the renovation will at last mercifully kill Linda Vista as the go-to destination for any production requiring a spooky asylum, haunted hospital, or spacious derelict building.
Had it continued, it would have been worth installing a position as part of the location services office that carefully tracked exactly what each film crew used it for over the years. That way, when director Bernard Rose showed up to film his “found footage” abandoned asylum horror thriller “SX_Tape,” someone could have pointed out that “found footage” abandoned asylum horror thrillers “The Crying Dead” (review here), “616: Paranormal Incident” (review here), and “Reel Evil” (review here) already did the exact same thing. Audiences are burnt on the first-person format as it is. One more round inside an overused building, also featured in “Voodoo Possession” (review here) and “Abducted” (review here) among others, is certainly not going to win the subgenre any new fans.
The good news is that “SX_Tape” is the most professionally produced of all similar movies filmed inside Linda Vista, as well as the most engaging, even if it is bizarrely uneven. The bad news is that it is still one more “found footage” movie about trespassing in a haunted asylum whose walls have been seen countless times before in seemingly innumerable other films.
By nature of being “found footage,” there is already a high barrier of entry to “SX_Tape” given how many horror fans immediately tune out simply from hearing those two words. “SX_Tape” is a movie about a somewhat risqué couple attempting to film a sex tape inside a creepy building because it will make a good backdrop for main character Jill’s hipster art gallery exhibition. That means how attractive the viewer finds Jill determines the levels of both believability and interest when it comes to investing in the potential sexiness of the story.
Actress Caitlyn Folley is well suited for the role. Folley brings a smoky maturity that lends authenticity to Jill’s sultriness. With dark-eyed makeup and a henna-tattooed hand complementing her lip-biting look, there is a slight tint of daring to her sexuality that makes Jill’s brazen nature tantalizingly irresistible.
Few women can be categorized as everyone’s cup of tea. Thus, not everyone will envision Jill in exactly the same way. She is an accessible woman whose caution-to-the-wind boldness heightens her infectious appeal and makes foolishly following her devil-may-care direction seem like a sensible idea. But thanks to a supporting cast that is not as fleshed out, anyone not onboard with Jill’s characterization is doomed to count yawns without having an anchor into the fiction.
“SX_Tape” takes a traditional amble up the gradual exposition ramp, although the slow roll fits nicely as an introduction to the characters and to the theme. Act one in “found footage” is generally the dumpster for fluff, padding, and filler. Here, watching Jill and her boyfriend Adam graduate from playful flirtation while alone in their downtown loft to a daylight dare inside a boutique changing room makes sense as an illustration of how their relationship dynamic leads them to sex in a mental ward.
Once Adam and Jill make it inside the hospital however, “SX_Tape” continues its formulaic approach to “found footage” with less satisfying results. Another couple is introduced, the newly formed quartet wanders empty halls, and bumps in the darkness constitute what the movie uses as scares to keep the audience unsettled. That remains the recipe for the rest of the runtime, and how well that technique works varies as the storyline moves into increasingly odd setups.
By the time act three winds to its conclusion, “SX_Tape” takes on a strange smell of desperation. What starts as a straightforward ghost story streaked with sex appeal dives face first in the deep end of weirdness without warning and without reason. “SX_Tape” ends on some relatively shocking imagery that includes the birth of a dead fetus (I think) and a man’s member being viciously severed during an act of oral sex. The visceral gruesomeness is only half of what makes such moments so disturbing. The other half is how out from left field they are while appearing shoehorned into the story purely for shock value.
It feels like Bernard Rose and company suddenly shook themselves from a haze. It is as though they realized they were making a too simple story with too little innovation and decided to go for the jugular in the most outrageous way possible. The result is a movie capable of commanding attention when the sexiness fires on all cylinders and the bizarreness mystifies before getting too far ahead of itself. But once the focus wavers down the back half, “SX_Tape” leaves the audience questioning what the whole point was after all of the dust has settled.
Review Score: 60