Film Review: The Poughkeepsie Tapes – 2006
The Poughkeepsie Tapes was, for a time, one of the most highly anticipated horror film releases of the year 2006. As it made a limited festival run at the big names (primarily Tribeca), it gained a small, eager following. After Tribeca, MGM acquired the film and planned for its release. However, as we know, MGM shortly after hit money troubles and the planned re-shoot of several major scenes was cancelled, making the film a lame duck in MGM’s catalog and causing an indefinite release delay. After four years, of sitting around, the original screener cut was given a limited theatrical release then shelved again. A DVD has been promised, but not delivered. I lost patience. My review here is, thus, not based on any official DVD, but a screener copy that I downloaded off of BitTorrent.
The plot of The Poughkeepsie Tapes centers around the idea of a serial killer who spent more than fifteen years active in the Poughkeepsie and Putnam counties in New York. After years of hunting, the FBI has finally caught a break when an IP-address trace on some of the killer’s internet activity provides them with a street address. The arrive at the home, bash in the door with SWAT Team members, and discover the house to be empty except for three things: cadavers in the backyard, a barely breathing past victim, and thousands of home-recorded VHS tapes depicting his crimes. These tapes become the basis of the film. Unlike most found footage films, however, The Poughkeepsie Tapes continues to frame these tapes with narration and interviews from the various parties involved. This is, at heart, a deeply disturbing horror mockumentary.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes was directed by John Erick Dowdle (Quarantine, Devil, Quarantine 2: Terminal). He shows surprising agility and aptitude with storytelling and scare-delivery. There were no cheap “jump out of your seat” moments in this film. Instead, it relies on steady, building tension throughout the film. The collaborative script written by him and his brother, Drew Dowdle, creates the necessary atmosphere and only feel stilted once during the film. The quality of film wasn’t good, but in a mockumentary / found footage film, this was excusable.
The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a unique, riveting film about a truly terrifying idea. If you can stomach it, check it out. I give it a 3.5/4.