Friday, June 17, 2016

Don't Watch This Alone! - #HORROR

Welcome to another installment of DON'T WATCH THIS ALONE!, where we review the best, worst, and everything in between in the world of horror. This week review a morality tale for the age of social media: #HORROR.

Howdy fellow film freaks, Robert here, and for this week's DWTA! I've ventured into the unfashionable end of my Netflix queue and returned bearing the mangy pelt of a true turkey. #Horror is a teen slasher flick that tries to be a morality tale of the dangers of spending too much time on social media. The plot is the standard formula: six preteen girls gather for a sleepover, only to become the prey of the bog-standard lurking-masked-killer-person. It's so standard there's really nothing more I can say about it, story-wise; if you've ever watched a horror movie about a serial killer, you've seen #Horror. But if it was just a disposable retread of a well-worn meme, it wouldn't have been so bad. The worst part about #Horror is that writer/director Tara Subkoff tried to make it "mean something."

She does this by packing the movie full of references to today's various causes célèbres. Social media, and the dangers of overindulging therein, is supposed to be the big one, as evidenced by that ridiculous gimmick of a title. But there are others, like bullying, peer-pressure and body-shaming, each inserted into the plot with all the subtlety and deft skill of a student protest rally. Our pre-pubescent herd of psycho fodder are ostensibly friends, but they are objectively horrible to each other. After gathering together, barely a moment passes when acid sarcasm and cruel remarks don't flow between them like a poisoned river. Even when the killer has appeared and stalks among them, they still don't let up. At one point, there appears to be some hope for these hateful children, as they kick one of their number out of the house for taking the bullying too far. This is true, she does go too far, but that a line is even shown to exist at all after the awful things that have already been said would be funny if the whole thing weren't so sad. Things improve for a little while after this, but don't stay that way for long.

The adults in their lives are no better. Alex (Chloe Sevigny), the mother of one of the girls, is a self-absorbed terror, rarely seen without a drink in her hand. Another's father, Dr. Michael White (Timothy Hutton), is a high-strung, hair-triggered monster, who at one point handles the disappearance of his daughter by screaming at the remaining girls and threatening them with a kitchen knife. This brings me to my second major problem with this movie (we'll get to what the first one is in a moment): there's no one to cheer for. Any good horror story features two essential ingredients. First, there must remain a lack of satisfactory resolution to the mystery of why the terrors in the story occur. Second, there must be some representative of goodness or purity that is threatened by the dark forces at large, to give the story some emotional engagement. This film has neither of these. Aside leaving us with a timeline that doesn't completely make sense, the ending resolution of "their bullying pushed her too far!" ties things up far too neatly. As for the second, Subkoff goes so far out of her way to establish the "mean girls" relationship between the slumber-partiers that she renders them completely unlikeable. The only emotional reaction to be had from their torments then is a catharsis born of schadenfruede, or taking joy from the suffering of another. That's not a healthy mental attitude, and one I don't appreciate being pushed to take.

So, what does all this have to do with social media? In the immortal words of Kuni from UHF, "Nothing. Absolutely nothing." And that's my first problem with this movie: while #Horror is supposed to be a horror movie about social media, any connection between the story and the very thing that's supposed be central to the plot is either ignored for its sheer ubiquity, or bolted on after the fact. Occasionally one of the characters will spout some throwaway line like "Oh my gosh, look how many likes we're getting!" but otherwise any connection between this story and Facebook and its ilk is purely coincidental. The film tries to distract us from this fact by breaking up montage sequences with wildy kinetic, neon colored animated sequences meant to imitate a hyperactive version of Candy Crush, but these sequences have nothing to do with the plot. It's like a movie about playing video games where no one picks up a controller, and instead just mentions levels and scores occasionally.

The weirdest part, and the clearest evidence that this movie has nothing to do with social media at all, comes at the very end of the film, a final, kaleidoscopic animated sequence of a young girl recording a YouTube video. When we can finally hear her, she's not even making sense, just babbling the kind of buzzword-laden gibberish that someone faking familiarity with social media would come up with: "... I'm gonna have the best avatar, with the most likes. And I'm gonna have the top score, and be the top player. And I'm gonna be remembered forever."

#Horror wants to be a horror movie inspired by recent stories of young children driven to senseless violence by the interwebs, but it's just the generic slasher flick equivalent of Mr Mackey's Drug Awareness lecture. If you're looking for a bad movie, look no further, but otherwise stay away.

#Horror is not rated, but contains scenes of violence, alcohol and tobacco use, adult language and adult situations.

Robert's Score: 0/10

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