There will likely be no shortage of movies dealing with #MeToo themes, but Deborah Kampmeir’s indie feature scores points by being one of the earliest. A hard-hitting psychological drama about an actress who surreptitiously monitors her former assailant and his current prospective victim, Tape benefits from its well-executed thriller mechanics and terrific performances by its three leads.
The film starts off on a disturbing note, when we see Rosa (newcomer Annarosa Mudd, making a powerful impression), a New York City actress, preparing a monologue from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. That she is uncommonly dedicated to her craft becomes evident when, as part of the process, she pierces her tongue, cuts her wrist and shaves her head to a buzz cut, echoing the violations that Lavinia, the character she’s playing, suffers. She also attaches a miniature camera and microphone to her body.
Painful to watch, in an important way.
We next see her, dressed all in black and wearing sunglasses, watching a group of young women waiting on an outdoor line to audition for a handsome, charismatic producer, Lux (Tarek Bishara, who appeared in HBO’s similarly themed The Tale). She approaches one of the young hopefuls, Pearl (Isabelle Furhman, The Orphan, The Hunger Games), and strikes up a casual conversation before observing the proceedings inside.
It soon becomes apparent that Rosa has a particular plan in mind. She manages to place surveillance cameras and microphones, one located behind a fake electrical outlet, in the studio where Lux has invited Pearl to perform a scene just with him in private.
The ensuing encounter provides the pic with its dramatic centerpiece, as the naïve, deeply hopeful Pearl shows up for the audition and gets far more than she bargained for. Lux informs her that for the scene they’ll be working on, she’ll have to get nude. “You must practice the ancient art of glamour,” he informs her, reassuring her of his “knowledge of the secret arts, both ancient and modern” and promising that the taped scene is guaranteed to get her future work.
Pearl is naturally reluctant, so Lux tries to reassure her by showing her a scene from Monster’s Ball. “She won an Oscar for this,” he proclaims, referring to Halle Berry. Providing further fuel to his argument, he points out, “Look at all those HBO shows. There’s so much sex and nudity.”
The drawn-out encounter is as painful to watch as one can imagine. Lux raises the stakes further when he insists, for the purpose of realism, that Pearl must have actual sex with him, quickly stripping down to make his point. Rosa’s monitoring of the proceedings only heightens the intensity of the encounter, her pained muttering providing a dramatic underscoring. At times, the symbiotic relationship between her and Pearl becomes starkly evident by the dramatic visual compositions in which the two women seem to be agonizingly staring directly at each other, separated only by a digital divide. Valentina Caniglia’s cinematography, often jerky and blurry to reflect the footage as being shot by Rosa, adds further visual immediacy.
Fuhrman and Bishara play the lengthy scene perfectly, the former sensitively portraying Pearl’s growing horror even as she desperately wants to advance her art and the latter fully convincing as the slick, outwardly charming con artist preying on his victim’s emotional vulnerabilities and manipulating her in a way that makes evident he’s done this sort of thing many times before.
Tape proves less convincing in its final act when we learn more about Rosa’s motivations, especially in a clumsily staged, hokey climactic encounter involving the three main characters that mainly feels redolent of bad theater. That misstep aside, the movie well fulfills its aspiration of providing a vividly rendered dramatization of the sexual exploitation all too endemic in show business.
Production company-distributor: Full Moon Films
Cast: Isabelle Fuhrman, Tarek Bishara, Annarosa Mudd, Allison Wynn, Isabella Pisacane, Alexanna Brier, Lolly Jensen, Sophia Adler, Kana Hatakayama
Director-screenwriter-editor: Deborah Kampmeier
Producers: Deborah Kampmeier, Veronica Nickel, Annarosa Mudd
Executive producers: Kenneth Romanski, Marie Romanski
Director of photography: Valentina Caniglia
Production designer: Mikaela Martin
Costume designer: Annie Simon
Casting: Stephanie Holbrook