I can recall a joke from the late comedian Richard Jeni about America and our approach towards invention of the last twenty years. “We may not know how to create anything anymore, but we’re damn sure the best at finding ways to fuck something up and sell more of it.” He was talking about the French croissant, and our fast food breakfast croissanwiches. Taped is the second Dutch feature I’ve seen this year at Fantastic Fest. This film and the other have both had the rights purchased by U.S. studios with the intention of doing a U.S. remake. We’ll see what kinds of breakfast sandwiches we can make out of them, but until then the Netherlands are proving themselves capable of making their own pretty fine crime thrillers.
Taped begins as what would appear to be an eventual melodrama about a married couple trying hopelessly to rekindle their affection for one another by taking a trip to Argentina. They had gone together years before becoming husband and wife (and father and mother), and this time have brought along a camcorder to document all the reminiscing at old hot spots with the intention of giving their daughter some context of their relationship. Every time they address the camera they always address their daughter instead of speaking to one another.
The marriage wasn’t always so bad and they both go on the vacation with the best of intentions to come back with the strong affection they knew they had (and believe capable of still having) but the harboring of harmful secrets and their individual pride to just convey how hurt they each are keep them from reconnecting. Eventually, one says too much and the other responds too harshly and they decide to cut their stay short and head back home.
When their bus doesn’t arrive to pick them up from the bus stop on the way to the airport the couple become the sole witnesses to a policeman shooting a man in cold blood. Just the two of them in an empty parking lot, and a recording camera. When the policeman notices he’s been recorded a chase begins through the streets, back alleys and factories of the nearby blocks; and the couple find it difficult to not only rid themselves of the corrupt officers on their tail, but also to communicate to anyone who might be able to help in a country where they don’t speak the primary language.
When Taped is at its best its a very effective chase thriller. The pursuers are relentless and unhinged enough to overcome their lack of athleticism. The main officer seeking to get back the camcorder that can expose him is a character that would probably be the one who gets mistreated by a much more capable criminal in most other pictures. He’s practically Wormtail given his own movie to be the worst person in it (thankfully the worst of his acts occurs mostly offscreen) and without the constraints of a PG-13 rating.
The only thing Taped has working against it is a lead male character (though played intensely and believably by Barry Atsma) that toggles between making very sensible decisions and very terrible ones. Only in horror films would you find yourself busting at the seams in an attempt to contain your frustrations with someone doing something idiotic, or not doing something that appears so obviously smart and simple. There are at least one or two self-inflicted horrors that could have been avoided if the screenwriter didn’t succumb to convenience.
Despite those annoyances Taped does pull you in with the performances from its two leads Atsma and Susan Visser. Both have similar arcs even though they achieve their growth under [hopefully] unrelatable circumstances, and director Diederik Van Rooijen shows a good knack for setting up shots to keep the pace feeling immediate. If the opportunity is there this is worth seeing before we make another melty-cheese croissanwich.
The Upside: A clever setup and concept that’s pulled off with a high degree of intensity and a satisfying conclusion. The two leads also do well to keep you liking them when their characters do things that make you severely dislike them
The Downside: A handful of moments that are highly frustrating and needlessly so.
On the Side: According to IMDB this picture was already remade as ‘Taped’ in the year 0000. This year’s time travel theme at Fantastic Fest has started to infect films that have no time traveling at all.