Pros: Original material, convincing
Cons: Shaky cameras might nauseate some
September Tapes could best be described as Blair Witch in Afghanistan. Instead of hunting a mysterious evil spirit/cult in the woods, a small documentary film crew brave the dangers of Afghanistan in search of Osama Bin Laden. Much like The Blair Witch Project, the idea behind this film is that eight tapes were found in a cavern in the Afghanistan mountains and they were put together to create this fictional documentary.
In the opening segments, or Tape 1, you are introduced to a man who lost too much on September 11th, so he decided to sell all his possessions and head to Afghanistan in search of answers. He wanted to know why Bin Laden and his goons would want to attack the United States. This man, named Don Larson, deems himself an investigative reporter and tries to line up some interviews with key members of Al Qaida. It doesnt take long before he finds himself armed and on the road, headed toward the Pakistani border where Bin Laden had supposedly been hiding.
You probably wont recognize anyones names from the credits because most of the people involved havent done much else before. I think that lends credibility to the faux documentary style because the actors are not recognizable. Don Larson is played by actor George Calil, who has done some work in other roles, most notably Band of Brothers. He looks a lot like Matthew Fox from Lost. Calil carries the movie pretty well and his acting seems sincere enough.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about this movie is that it actually looks like it was shot in Afghanistan. From what I have read about it, they used India as a base of operations while shooting in the cities for this film. Given what is going on in the world, I think it is pretty incredible that they were able to pull off such a thing on a shoestring budget.
One thing about these faux documentary movies is that they often betray themselves with certain flaws in the filmmaking process. For example, only one cameraman is shown making the film. However, multiple angles are often used in addition to jump shots and close-ups. If you stop to think about how some parts are filmed, it takes away from the realism. The 5.1 channel sound mix is cool when rockets go flying overhead, but you wouldnt get that kind of sound quality on something shot in the field like that.
If you get sick easily, the extremely shaky camerawork might nauseate you. There is one big action sequence that works very well for the style in which it was shot, and it sort of reminded me of being in a first person shooter video game. Much like The Blair Witch Project, several scenes were shot at night where everything is green and the actors have huge dilated pupils. There were no cameras looking up peoples noses, which was a plus.
September Tapes is a neat movie and a great effort by a group of new filmmakers. Despite a few flaws, I thought it was a highly original film. There were a few dull moments, but the last couple minutes of the film bring this to a chilling conclusion.