TAPE – Review
TAPE opens with images of the mutilated character Lavinia from Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” followed by horrific footage of a young woman strapping a camera to her belly to film herself engaged in self-mutilation. The scene looks like something out of a horror film but the film shifts gears, as she turns her camera towards secretly filming a predatory male director/producer as he moves in on a young actress, with a pretense of coaching her acting. The echos of Harvey Weinstein and his ilk are unmistakable, and this based-on-a-true story about a Me Too experience offers a harrowing journey with a gut-punch ending.
The fact that it is based on a true story adds power to director/writer Deborah Kampmeier’s taut drama TAPE, is a chilling drama for the MeToo era, with an actress tracking a predatory director’s moves on another young actress. “I would never want you to do anything that made you uncomfortable” is the prelude to “but if you want a career” pressure. It is a familiar theme in the era of Harvey Weinstein but watching it unfold step-by-step in this taut tale is more disturbing than one might expect.
Deborah Kampmeier is known for her feminist films, and while this one fits neatly into that group, it is also a rallying cry on a timely topic. Most powerfully, it is a step-by-step examination of how young women are lured into these kinds of destructive situations, by someone playing on ambition and skilled in manipulation.
Although the film was clearly shot on a shoestring budget, that fact does nothing to diminish its impact. The film’s edge-of-your-seat effect is largely thanks to following the subjects step-by-step descent into the trap, and the emotionally-jarring final sequence. That effect is greatly aided by fine acting by the trio of performers at its center.
Annarosa Mudd plays Rosa, the woman with the camera, who pierces her tongue, shaves her head and cuts her wrists in an homage to Shakespeare’s’ Lavinia, before setting up camera and strapping one to herself, as she stalks a young actress named Pearl. Rose seems unbalanced, obsessive, maybe jealous, until we gradually see what is really happening. Her searing performance and haunting screen presence grips us, so we cannot look away.
As Pearl, Isabelle Fuhrman wavers between self-assured and confident in her own values, and an ambitious performer driven to seize every opportunity. Pearl is also pursued by director/producer Lux (Tarek Bishara), with praise of her talent and offers to mentor her. As handsome, charming Lux, Bishara veers, in astonishingly convincing manner, between a charismatic mentor who seems only want to guide her to the full expression of her talent, and a selfish predator bent on his own seamy goals. Their dance along the knife edge of truth and deceit is truly harrowing to watch.
This is not an easy film to watch but it rewards the audience with its thought-provoking content. Even though the Covid-19 pandemic has pushed all other issues to the side for now, the issue of abuse of women in the entertainment and other industries has not gone away and will resurface again. This gripping drama gives compelling insights how a reasonable young woman might find herself drawn into this destructive situation.
TAPE begins streaming Friday, April 10, on Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay and Microsoft.
RATING: 3 1/2 out of 4 stars