New VOD Releases: The Tent (2020)-Reviewed

(Image Courtesy of 1926 Pictures)
They say the road to hell is paved with the best intentions. While it's certainly hyperbolic to compare a film to eternal suffering, new thriller The Tent fails to rise above its struggles, good intentions and all.

Writer/Director Kyle Couch enters the scene with what appears to be a deeply personal film by way of a post-apocalyptic thriller. Set in the near future after an event known only as "The Crisis", we meet David. David lives in the outskirts of civilization inside a tent he's constructed with anything he should need to survive. In this tent, he hides from unseen creatures who may have been responsible for "The Crisis." One night while out in the woods, David mistakenly trips over one of his own traps but luckily for him, another survivor named Mary emerges. After helping him, the two clash over their differing modes of survival but soon realize that they'll need each other for what's coming next.

It's profoundly difficult to talk about this film without spoiling it and far be it from me to stray from the masthead of this very site. There's a reveal here that's somehow both so obvious but so disjointed in its execution that discussing it would quite literally ruin the film. It's also where the "good intentions" come into play and what gives the film the feeling that it was made with love. I'd rather not go on too long about this because again, it's impossible to talk about but the deeper layers of this film are profound in ways that should work but the reveals are constantly kneecapped by performers who aren't up to delivering them.

(Image Courtesy of 1926 Pictures)

That's the central problem with The Tent. Even as a post-apocalyptic two-hander, everything that works is undercut by the performances. Tim Kaiser fairs a bit better as David than Lulu Dahl does as his counterpart, Mary but neither are up to how good this film looks. Set almost entirely in and around the tent, Couch crafts a narrative that is wholly compelling if you can get past the performances. He frames it with both home video footage of past David standing in front of a rudimentary tent giving survival tips and various disjointed scenes from what appears to be another life David is leading. While the actors struggle to keep things going, Couch's various narrative tricks are the film's life blood. You can't help but guess where it's all going to end up even as Kaiser and Dahl frequently pull you out of the movie. DP Robert Skates' photography is another boon to the struggling film. There are genuine moments of beauty that betray a film yearning for the right pieces to get it to that next level. Couch and Skates' artistry is on full display in the opening which is genuinely terrific, full of tension and sets a high bar that the film and its stars never come close to living up to. 

All of this is such a shame. No one takes joy in being down on a film that so many people clearly put their all into but it's difficult to downplay the negatives when they're so stark next to the positives. The bones of something excellent are here. A survival story focussed on investing you in the interpersonal dynamics of its leads as it all gives way to something deeper and maybe even more horrifying is endlessly compelling. Couch has a clear vision and his narrative debut is so close to getting there. Unfortunately, his leads let him down every step of the way and by the final reveal it's impossible to care. I hope we see more of Couch in the future though because a filmmaker with interesting things to say and unique ways of framing them is always welcome. Hopefully his next effort is more polished.

-Brandon Streussnig