Friday, July 31, 2015

The Deception of The Vatican Tapes

The Vatican Tapes is the first film in the Overlook Theatre's history to scare off all but 2 film creeps. Huntress and I (Lord Battle) were the only two who dared to venture to the Vatican in hopes of viewing their tapes. Sadly, the film failed to deliver (not that anyone was surprised by this) but not for the reasons everyone expected...
Sunday July 26th, 2:00pm. We had made our way to the local Century theater with enough time to shop and eat prior. By the time the two of us were headed through the many halls of the cinema towards the proper theater we realized neither of us had the slightest idea what we were about to watch. It was easy to assume this was another found footage film based on the use of the word "Tapes" in the title, but other than that neither of us had even seen a trailer. I had only known of the film by previously stumbling upon it while looking for show times for Sean Parkers Tangerine.
Upon entering the screening room marked "2," we were surprised to discover that we were actually going to have company while viewing this film. There was actually a large number of people for this small mid-day showing of a found footage film. For some reason this crowd gave me a flash back to when Passion of the Christ opened. Not because the scene was reminiscent of the large numbers that attended those shows but the one time I saw the film in the theatre I distinctly remember the kids/babies to adults ratio being totally out of sync (guesstimating 3-1 ratio). The one huge difference between the Vatican kids and the Passion kids, were the Vatican kids were quiet and that's all that really matters.

After the lights dimmed and the previews subsided, we were shocked when the film started and quickly revealed itself to not be found footage! I was honestly taken aback by how upset I was about this, I had been mentally preparing myself for a terrible found footage film for days now and I wanted to see one! I'll admit it wasn't fair of me to approach the film in this manor but you have to agree that if you're going to title a movie "The Vatican Tapes" it better be fucking found footage.

After my initial anger faded I began to think that maybe the rest of the film will catch me off guard and be amazing. Now the film was not the worst thing I've ever seen but it was amazingly confusing from the get go. The Vatican Tapes opens with two priests(?) watching footage of a girl. This footage is slightly aggravating as it is filmed in the style I was expecting from the whole movie, then again the brief reminder of what bad found footage actually looks and feels like was enough to keep me from complaining again.
The footage ends and the film goes back in time to play out how we inevitably got here. In order to keep from going over every beat of this film I'm going to summarize what happens from this point.
We are introduced to Angela (Olivia Taylor Dudley) who is soon to be possessed on her 25th birthday. How she was possessed still eludes me, maybe there is some occult justification that I am unaware of but as I saw it she was possessed by either the internet, a raven, or a kitchen knife. 

The internet is suspicious because she was writing articles about satanism on a site and headed her article with a big picture of Baphomet. The Raven follows her throughout the film and is supposed to be telling her to do evil things, but always seems to be on the other side of various windows... Although he did also appear at her Angela's party, his caw is what caused her to cut herself with the kitchen knife... The kitchen knife is suspect because it's the only thing that actually hurt Angela before she was possessed. The knife also wickedly spilled her blood over the beautiful (store bought) birthday cake her boyfriend Pete (John Patrick Amedori) had selected for her. 

The mishmash of possession justifications is an admission from the director Mark Neveldine (Crank 1-2, Ghost Rider 2, and Gamer), stating that he just doesn't care about horror fans, acting like we'll bite at the line no matter how poor the bait may be. Which of course couldn't be farther from the truth. The Exorcist is an obvious inspiration for The Vatican Tapes (blatant hat homage), yet it seems like they ignored every great thing about the film, especially its amazing pace; The Exorcist spent most of the film setting up a situation where any semi-intelligent person would have to rationalize the use of an exorcism. That's why the film is so terrifying!
 The events continue with Angela progressively getting weird, and not in a scary way. She freaks out (rightfully so) on a lady who shoulder-checks her while getting off a bus, then is shortly attacked by two birds who are defeated by the bus window. The second one does manage to get in by breaking through the glass but is badly hurt and lays on the floor. We then cut to a group of bus  patrons surrounding this dead looking bird. Of course the heroic boyfriend sloooowwwwly bends down to poke the bird, only to trigger the most forced jump-scare I've seen in years. Angela is apparently bitten by this bird (on her cut finger of course) and the wound results in her acting possessed?

The Vatican Tapes offensively assumes that you believe in God, yet have no understanding of religion what-so-ever. What makes this even better is the fact that the film acts like a sexually repressed child. Rated PG-13, The Vatican Tapes still manages to work in a ton of awkward sexual tension coming from Angela's single father Roger and Pete as they constantly fight to win her approval. There is one scene that takes place in a taxi that I just have to share. Angela has just had her finger checked out and is released from the hospital. She is with Rodger and Pete and the three of them jump in a taxi, Angela sitting up front while Pete and Rodger sit in the back. The camera sits up front with Angela and looks back at the two boys as they begin to fight over something unimportant. The shot is like a time machine robbing the two adults of all age and apparently the wisdom brought with it as the two fight like lobbying suitors, hot on Angela's trail. This tension is present throughout the film and is quit creepy when you pick up on it. The fight is diffused by Angela grabbing the wheel of the taxi and flipping the car, but why she does this is beyond me.
A bit later in the film we find Angela awaking in the middle of the night to try and drown a baby... Well what actually happens is she picks a baby up and walks it over to a shallow tub of water. Why this tub is here and still filled with water is a mystery of course but a close-up of the drowning warning is a strong implication as to what Angela intended. We'll of course never know for sure because security was waiting for her to do something like this before rushing in...

This film continues for quit a while in a similar fashion, with a bird convincing a detective to shove light bulbs into his eyes (PG-13 equals no gore, sorry), the Vatican sending in their X-men which consist of a previously possessed priest and another guy that looks important? That leads to a very Exorcist exorcism. This is actually where the film begins to stop pretending to be some deep slow-burn and just leaps into superhero territory head-on. Angela becomes the Dark Phoenix and destroys her own house. This all plays out like a hillbilly's nightmare of what the Anti-Christ might be like, yet when the camera leaves her side we learn about all the miracles she's been committing and how America now loves her... It's very obvious at this point that The Vatican Tapes was intended to be the first of a trilogy and I'd honestly be more interested in the following films.

I have no clue how to wrap this up, as I could continue ranting about this film forever. But in closing I'll say this: The Vatican Tapes is a film whose title made me incredibly angry once it started because I felt it mislead me. Now having written about my experience with the film, I feel the title is very appropriate. The Vatican Tapes is made for horror fans to consume, not enjoy. By trying to trick people into thinking they're seeing a found footage film, Mark Neveldine definitely achieved this.

- Lord Battle

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