FrightFest 2023: The Glenarma Tapes Is a Modern Riff on The Blair Witch Project

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I’m a big fan of The Blair Witch Project. I love the way it maintains a sense of mystery right up until the credits begin to roll, and whenever I hear about a film that draws inspiration from it, I’m immediately intrigued. So naturally, when I first heard about The Glenarma Tapes, I knew I had to check it out. The FrightFest plot synopsis sounded like a modern riff on that found-footage classic, and I couldn’t wait to find out what terrors this movie had in store.

The Glenarma Tapes was directed by Tony Devlin, and it stars Warren McCook, Emily Lamey, Ryan Early, and Sophie Hill. In the film, four art students—Gordy, Jimmy, Clare, and Eleanor—find out that two of their teachers are having a secret affair, and they learn that those teachers are planning on going camping together in a remote wooded area called Glenarma Forest. As a prank, the four students decide to go to the forest as well and catch their teachers’ affair on camera, but soon after they arrive, they encounter something much more evil and much more dangerous than they ever could’ve expected.

On paper, that plot synopsis sounds really intriguing, but unfortunately, the execution of The Glenarma Tapes just doesn’t measure up. In particular, I had a really tough time getting into the characters. Some of them had potential, but the movie never lets them become more than generic horror fodder.

Take Gordy, for example. On the surface, he seems like just another screwup, but when you get to know him, he’s actually much more than that. He’s a really loving and thoughtful big brother, and he even shows an uncommon concern for people he doesn’t know all that well.

A person in a mask
Image provided by FrightFest

This guy has almost all the makings of a great character, but he’s missing one key component: he doesn’t have much of a personality. He remains pretty closed off for most of The Glenarma Tapes, so even though it’s clear that he’s a great guy, he’s just not fun to watch.

On the flip side, Eleanor seems like a ton of fun, and from the moment she arrives on screen, you know she has enough personality for both her and Gordy. Actress Sophie Hill does a great job in the role, but unfortunately, Eleanor is sorely underdeveloped. Even though she’s one of the main characters, she actually feels more like a side character, so I just never got much of a chance to connect with her.

Next, we have Jimmy and Clare, and for my money, they’re the worst of the bunch. There’s simply nothing all that interesting or charming about either of them, so they feel like every other character we’ve ever seen in a horror movie.

Weak characters are almost always fatal for a movie, but I didn’t give up on The Glenarma Tapes right away. I remained hopeful that the film would get better once the horror came to the fore, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Granted, some of the horror in this movie is actually pretty good, but because I didn’t like the characters, I couldn’t bring myself to care about the terrors they were experiencing.

See, when people talk about horror films, they often discuss how scared they are of the things they see on screen, but in my opinion, what’s even more important is how scared you are for the characters. If you’re genuinely concerned about their safety and well-being, the horror will work for you even if it doesn’t actually scare you.

A man with his shirt off
Image provided by FrightFest

However, if you don’t care about them, even good horror can fall flat, and that’s exactly what happens in The Glenarma Tapes. There’s some effective tension and action here, and the truth about the Glenarma Forest was just as surprising for me as it is for the main characters in the movie. But since I wasn’t invested in the characters, none of that mattered. I simply didn’t care what happened to these people, so even the good horror in this film felt more like visual noise than anything else.

What’s more, I also thought The Glenarma Tapes shortchanged its villains a bit. I can’t get into any specifics without spoiling the movie’s big surprise, but suffice it to say, these villains don’t get to live up to their full potential. They’re a very specific kind of villain, but the film essentially reduces them to another, less interesting (at least in my opinion) kind of horror bad guy, and I found that really disappointing.

Last but not least, I want to talk a bit about the way this movie ends. At one point in the third act, the film changes gears pretty drastically, and I thought that was going to lead to some more cool horror. But unfortunately, the story kind of just fizzles out, and all we get is a weak attempt at a heartwarming message. To be fair, that message is pretty good in itself, but in the context of this movie, it feels more shoehorned-in than genuinely earned.

So at the end of the day, I’m sad to say that The Glenarma Tapes didn’t nearly live up to my expectations. Granted, it’s not all bad, so I’m still happy I got to see it. But at the end of the day, the film’s strengths are ultimately outweighed by the poor characters, the short-changed villains, and the weak ending, so I can’t quite say I enjoyed the experience overall.

The Glenarma Tapes played at FrightFest on August 26.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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