What do you do when you want to make a monster movie but have a small budget and a limited roster of actors? If you are Kyle Couch, you go ahead and make that monster movie, The Tent, utilizing everything you do have at your disposal. How does the writer and director fare? Pretty dang well, all told.
A cataclysmic event known only as The Crisis has left humanity in a hopeless situation. David (Tim Kaiser), who is getting on in years, has taken to living in a tent in woods, stalking small animals for food. For reasons he cannot entirely explain, the mysterious and creepy creatures, who are responsible for The Crisis, do not break into his tent.
One night while hunting, David is startled by something and gets caught in one of his traps. Luckily, Mary (Lulu Dahl) happens to walk by and saves him. As a way of saying thank you, David allows her to stay in his tent overnight. As David and Mary get to know each other better, she questions his survival methods, as it seems he is becoming more and more forgetful with age. Can they survive the night against both the creatures who walk at night and their clashing personalities?
“…she questions his survival methods, as it seems he is becoming more and more forgetful with age.”
If this dramatic mystery-thriller, which is Couch’s third feature-length film, is any indication, he has a fruitful and impressive career ahead of him. Director of photography Robert Skates and the director do not merely film the action of the characters. They move the camera in ways that directly put the viewer into the characters’ headspace, so their inner lives are deeply felt.
Skates also uses roving handheld shots to make the creatures come to life. See, the monsters are never onscreen. The filmmakers creatively use the point of view sequences and the sound design, which is sublime, to sell these beings as not just alive, but malevolent, cunning hunters who can smell weakness (literally). Couch and his team not only perfectly convey this, but they also manage to keep up the suspense and intense atmosphere for most of the film’s speedy 85-minute runtime.
The operative word there is most, as some sequences drag on longer than necessary. After David and Mary apply bandages to his leg, and Mary prevents a possible creature attack, the two of them sit outside around the fire and get to know one another. The problem here is that David only offers the same generalizations that were provided before, only instead of being about survival, it’s his life. His job before the Crisis involved listening and trying to help others.
Okay, so was he a therapist? High school guidance counselor? Crisis hotline worker? Because these questions still exist, the purpose of the scene is unclear. Thanks to the two actors giving it their all, the moment is not without merit, but it could have been cut out, and, with a minor rewrite, The Tent would hardly change.
"…the sound design is some of the best in a movie, budget be darned, all year."