The Levenger Tapes
Detectives in a remote town pore through every frame of a troubling tape to find the whereabouts of three missing college students. The chilling footage becomes more and more disturbing when the students come upon the bloody dress of an 8-year-old girl in the secluded wilderness and take it upon themselves to find her. Linking the case of the missing girl and the missing students together, the detectives race to piece enough information together to find them alive.
July 5th, 2016
Mark Edwin Robinson
Mark Edwin Robinson
The Levenger Tapes is yet another The Blair Witch Project knock-off – but not to worry, that horror genre is only what – 17 years old? Still as fresh, original and enticing as it ever was.
Admittedly, I believe there is still a (limited) place for found footage. If it’s used sparingly and to emphasize plot points or specific moments – have at it. But, in this day and age – a film with found footage 90% of the time? No. I will not have it. And the crazy thing is that found footage now means any type of first person filming. But The Levenger Tapes returns to the origins of true found footage — as it involves a camera and its contents being “found” by an outside party in some remote, wooded area, to be examined later. We’re back to basics here, folks.
College friends Chase (Morgan Krantz), Kim (Lili Mirijnick) and Amanda (Paranormal Activity 3‘s Johanna Braddy) go away for a weekend at Chase’s parent’s mountain home. After stealing a bottle of liquor from a backwoods convenience store and then fleeing a hit-n-run scenario, they get drunk at the cabin and when they see a strange bonfire somewhere outside and nearby (and the people whose vehicle they hit) they investigate – going through a barbed-wire fence which is meant to keep folks out of the mysterious “reserve”. Apparently, it’s an old Indian burial ground. The three kids naturally get lost, are attacked by something and… you guessed it – they film the entire thing. There’s also a surrounding story of police authorities watching the tapes in an effort to find out what happened to two of the kids. One of them (not revealed until the film’s ending) is in custody and refuses to speak following the ordeal.
The film is confusing, and the final reveal comes out of nowhere. There are enough clues to give us a half-decent sense of what just happened, but it’s certainly not clear. And all of the final moments seem thrown together — almost a kitchen-sink feeling — so the plot points seem to be a big blur.
Not helping the poor plot and lackluster script – the generally sub-par performances throughout. There are some decent credits behind some of the actors, and if I had to give out kudos to anyone (it’d be a tough call – since none of them offered any shining acting moments), I’d single out Lili Mirojnick. Her “Kim” is a stereotype from the get-go, but Mirojnick’s reactions to some of the horrific goings-on are at least reasonably effective and semi-genuine.
Even the presence of veteran character actor Chris Mulkey doesn’t do much to raise the acting bar here.
But going back to the story, it just doesn’t work. After the group is attacked by some female/witch creature thing, Chase is able to capture it. And when Amanda sees the creature, she decides she wants to help it. This thing which has been terrorizing and attempting to murder you and your friends — is now worthy of sympathy and concern? It’s just one of many choices by the characters which make no logical sense and which will warrant an eye-roll or twenty.
I did not like the film’s lighting. Filming in what is to be the “dead of night” poses many challenges. Don’t light it enough, and the audience is lost. Light it too much, and you may as well have your characters wandering around in broad daylight. The Levenger Tapes doesn’t quite reach the latter, but it’s not far off. The pools of light are too conspicuous and with that comes the total lack of grit and mystery. The attempt at authenticity is then flat and feels manufactured. This doesn’t help in keeping a sense of suspense or danger.
However, I will give the film these minute bits of positive feedback – there were a couple of “boo” moments which worked, and a few rare suspenseful scenes which got my heart racing – okay, not racing, but slightly revved? Slightly?
And that leaves the obvious complaint — the elephant in the room. Found footage. The tired justification of why these people in mortal danger will continue to film. 1) There’s a light on the camera. Okay. A practical, if flimsy justification. 2) They feel safer behind the camera – as seeing these events through the camera lens means it’s not as real. Yes, that’s a reason for one of the characters to want to continue filming. I can’t buy any of these excuses anymore.
Not that it really matters. I’ll reuse the term “flimsy” again when discussing the story. It’s as basic as it gets, the tidbits of history we receive about the characters are certainly not enough for us to get on board with their trials and tribulations. On top of that, the reasons we’re given for these people to make the stupid choices they do – not buying it. The bottom line is that these characters are idiots. They make bad choices and the audience is given no reason to sympathize with them, follow them on this underdrawn journey or care about what happens to them in the slightest.
For my avid readers of 2, you’ll know that I mention these problems in practically every review I do of a found footage piece. And I will continue to do so. That’s because it’s a dying art form. An overused and tired trick that lost its luster almost immediately after it “premiered” in the summer of 1999 in the woods near Burkittesville. I am indeed a broken record when it comes to this topic, but I guess I’ll have to be until this cliché comes to an overdue end.
The Levenger Tapes is boring, uninspired, poorly acted (for the most part) and adds absolutely nothing to the broad world of horror, or the more specific sub-genre of found footage.
The film is now available on DVD/VOD. However, I think it’s safe to assume that you should not seek out these “tapes”, that you should not watch these “tapes” and that you’re better off just enjoying a nice revisit with Heather, Mike and Josh as they discover far creepier things which go crack in the woods. Their tapes are far more intriguing.