A horror movie of sorts, Deborah Kampmeier’s “Tape” is a bludgeoning feminist tract, a grim P.S.A. about casting-couch predation and female subjugation. Leaden with references to rape culture and objectification — as well as the entertainment miscreants Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby — the script is suffocatingly, almost comically, on the nose. “Tape,” in short, is a terrible movie about appalling behavior.
That behavior isn’t confined to the movie’s villain, a charismatic casting director named Lux (Tarek Bishara). It’s also displayed by the putative heroine, Rosa (Annarosa Mudd), whom we meet in her bathroom as she shaves her head, pierces her tongue and slices her wrists. She’s not trying to kill herself: She’s expressing sisterhood with the violated Lavinia in Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus,” whose gory image is plastered over the film’s opening credits. Rosa, too, has been raped, Lux was her attacker, and now she plans to expose his crimes.
Attired in an all-black, beret-and-sunglasses get-up that screams “beatnik avenger,” Rosa, toting hidden recording equipment, heads to an audition where Lux is zooming in on Pearl (Isabelle Fuhrman), a textbook victim. Young, naïve and hopeful, Pearl is already bulimic and heartbreakingly biddable.
“I’ll do whatever it takes,” she tells someone during a sobbing telephone call, lamenting the difficulty of securing an acting job. Outside her window — and for most of the movie — Rosa lurks and listens, later spying on Pearl and Lux via a tablet as he expertly coerces the ingénue into performing a sex scene. However important the themes, watching one character watch others feels punishingly oppressive. As does the clichéd environment of harassment that Kampmeier (who specializes in queasy examinations of female sexual vulnerability) constructs around them. For Rosa, a walk down a New York City street is a gantlet of catcalling workmen and displays of girlie magazines.
Arriving with the full weight of #MeToo supplying both artistic anchor and critical shield, “Tape,” based on actual events, merges masochism and exorcism into a portrait of deep psychological pain. Plaintive female vocals adorn the soundtrack, and Valentina Caniglia’s clean, precise images pull light into dark corners. Strong performances do little to illuminate characters whose actions — especially in the cathartic restaurant finale — can feel strenuously contrived: It’s hard to care about people who are viewed solely through the lens of abuse, mere vehicles for a lecture on gender power imbalance. As a result, neither Rosa’s emotional agony nor Lux’s despicable sins achieve the resonance they deserve and which the filmmakers clearly intend.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes. Buy tickets to a virtual screening on tapevirtualpremiere.com.