The Black Tapes is one of the few podcasts I can legitimately say I got obsessed with. I mainlined my way through the first ten episodes in fewer than two days when I discovered it, and barely slept a wink as a result. Every creak in the floorboards or whistle of the wind set me on edge, thanks to the series’ impeccably executed combination of The X-Files and Serial. The second season wavered, struggling with that sophomore slump, but I remained engrossed. I took long walks through the woods like a completely sensible person, just so I could listen uninterrupted to the mysteries of Dr. Richard Strand and his paranormal investigations. Once the third season rolled along, I was delighted to see it kick things up a notch and amp up the tension.
Then it ended on that cliff-hanger. So abrupt, so rushed, and oh so disappointing. I believe the words ‘Oh fuck off’ were uttered aloud, which proved embarrassing in a public space. I’d never been so thoroughly burned by a podcast before, and it felt all the worse given how much time I’d spent recommending it to people I know. The sleepless nights felt so silly in hindsight.
So, the show does seem to be returning to complete the story, and I can’t deny that I’ll be listening to it with the same fervour I always had. Until then, the same team behind it and Tanis decided to drop a six-episode series entitled The Last Movie. Feeling more apprehensive about their work than usual, I still downloaded all the episodes and listened to them during my daily walks. The result was disappointing but not painfully so.
Hosted by Nic Silver, the guy behind Tanis (confession: I stopped listening to that one a few episodes in), The Last Movie is another mystery podcast positioned somewhere between Mulder and Scully and creepypasta. Alongside Tanis regular MK, Nic investigates a mythic movie that may or may not exist. Its contents were said to be so shocking and hypnotic that audiences were driven mad to their deaths by a simple viewing. Naturally, Nic wants to find it, even as demon worshippers, film crew members, and total strangers advise against the prospect.
As a film lover, this seemed right up my alley. There are many stories of films so shocking or controversial that they inspired scandal and shocked audiences beyond reason. Think of every legend you’ve heard about The Exorcist or the now iconic video in The Ring. Film has the potential to elicit all manner of emotions in us, so it only seems logical to take that power and imagine it as a literal demonic force. There’s bags of potential for a great storyteller to take this set-up and run with it. Sadly, The Last Movie stumbles at almost every hurdle.
First, the writing is simply sloppy. Many have mocked the repetitive formula of The Black Tapes, but the mysteries and influences were exciting enough to keep me intrigued, even as said set-up got all too familiar. With The Last Movie, nearly every conversation is the same:
Host: “So I have some questions for my podcast. It’s like radio on the internet.”
Interviewee: “Uh, sure.”
Host: *asks obvious question*
Interviewee: *gives cryptic answer*
Host: “Uh, what do you mean?”
Interviewee: “I mean that [elaborates vaguely]
*longer pause, music gets creepier*
Host: *awkward laugh* “Uh, okay. What about this thing?”
Interviewee: *drops shocker*
*another long pause*
Host: “This podcast is brought to you by SquareSpace…”
I can handle formula, but nothing in The Last Movie seems worth listening to. The mystery is sloppy, the dialogue repetitive, and ultimately there’s not enough to fill out 6 episodes. At best, this could be condensed to a tight 2-hour radio play, and it could work if the writers weren’t so eager to create an unnecessary season cliff-hanger.
Things happen, and even though we’re told we don’t have to listen to Tanis to understand what’s going on, it’s clear that we do. At moments, I was lost simply because gaps were left that quietly encouraged you to go download the other show. It’s not helped by how baggy the pacing is. Too much time is spent with Nic and MK, whose banter I assume we’re supposed to find charming. Mostly, Nic seems painfully stupid and MK’s bluntness comes across as arrogant and callous. It beggars belief why anyone would spend time with either of them. At least on The Black Tapes, the Mulder and Scully homage between Alex and Dr. Strand is built on real warmth. He’s gruff, she’s giddy, and they actually seem to enjoy one another’s company. There’s real chemistry there. Nic and MK lack that.
Sadly, the show doesn’t seem all that interested in film either. Names are dropped, like Kenneth Anger and Ridley Scott, but there’s little sense of this story being grounded in any historical or cultural understanding of cinema. The underground scene is a fascinating subset of the movie world, one that even the most educated scholars can overlook or misunderstand. People hunt down films like Lucifer Rising so they can get an insight into the transgressive power of cinema. There’s a thrill in being able to see something out of print or banned to the masses. It’s radical and, yes, dangerous, because we live in a society where art is still censored by those who fear it. And they should be scared, because art questions and liberates and provokes. The notion of a film-maker using the most popular medium of the 20th century to create genuine chaos is alluring, so why does The Last Movie seem so bored of its own concept?
If the series was gutsy enough to tell a tight one season story, I would have had some respect for it, but it cannot help but ask for more, hence its cliff-hanger. If you’re morbidly curious, The Last Movie has its moments, but it’s not a patch on The Black Tapes in its first season, or the truly stunning Limetown. If you want this story done well, read Night Film by Marisha Pessl.
For the curious, The Last Movie is available on iTunes, wherever you get your podcasts, and their website.
(Image from Podbean)