Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: TAPED Captures Tightly Wound Thrills

James Marsh, Asian Editor

Dutch director Diederik Van Rooijen delivers a stripped-down, no-nonsense chase thriller through deepest darkest Argentina, boasting tight, assured direction and a pair of knockout central performances.

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and witness to something that you'd frankly rather not have seen, has long been an effective thriller movie staple. From Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot through Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow Up to Peter Weir's Witness, it's a fast and incredibly impactful way of putting ordinary people into extraordinary and oftentimes extremely dangerous situations, for the sake of heightening the drama and delivering white knuckle thrills. In Taped, Van Rooijen delivers exactly such a premise - a situation anyone could seemingly find themselves in - and ramps up the tension to the nth degree.

Johan (Barry Atsama) and Saar (Susan Visser) have returned to Argentina, where they had their honeymoon, in a desperate attempt to save their marriage. The film begins as a video diary of the couple's trip, but it quickly becomes apparent that the exotic locations and initial enthusiasm for their adventure is veiling deep-seated problems between husband and wife. They are unhappy, they are both harbouring secrets, and if it wasn't for their daughter waiting for them back home, there could be nothing keeping Johan and Saar together.

Right then, as they sit quietly at a deserted bus station, awaiting their ride home to an uncertain future, they are witness to a murder. Worse still, the assailant is a cop and they inadvertently catch the whole thing on tape. Immediately spotted, Johan and Saar flee the scene, and soon find themselves on the run and in fear of their lives, in a country where they don't speak the language and with seemingly nowhere to turn for help.

Taped doesn't set out to reinvent the wheel, and doesn't pull any punches along the way either. Events play out pretty much as any seasoned thriller movie fan would anticipate, and strives to be nothing more than 90 minutes of breathless entertainment. What is impressive about the film is just how well it accomplishes all of its goals. Van Rooijen's direction is energetic, expertly-paced and has a keen understanding of his surroundings. Taped captures the energy and chaos of Buenos Aires, making it appear to be both an attractive tourist destination, but also a hostile and unforgiving urban hellhole that could swallow you up at any moment, and leave behind not a trace.

At the centre of the film's success, however, are the two outstanding performances from Atsama and Visser, who are never anything less than entirely convincing as the feuding couple. The script does a wonderful job of establishing Johan and Saar as real people - individuals, but also as members of a fractured family unit - who are wrestling to rekindle their love for each other amidst a whirlwind of other emotions, secrets and regrets. When circumstances force them to depend upon each other once again, the result is not a simple reconciliation, and the film maintains a nuanced approach to these characters and their relationship throughout.

Taped isn't perfect. There are decisions made at script level in the film's final third which prove unnecessary and unwelcome for various reasons, but the strength of what has come before makes them easy enough to forgive. There is already an American remake in the works, which frankly could go either way depending on who is cast and how the leads are developed. It's difficult to imagine an English language reworking of this admittedly simple and universal story will take the time to sculpt such a complex, compromised, yet ultimately sympathetic, screen couple as has been accomplished here. Taped deserves to find an audience based on its tight, lean and accomplished thrills, but it will gain its fans because of its expertly realised depiction of a relationship in peril.

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