So what’s trending in horror? Do you know your ‘Fleets’ from ‘Snaps’? Are you up on ‘newsjacking’ or ‘impressions’. Maybe you’re suffering from FOMO. If so, don’t worry. The horror genre’s never been one to miss out on what’s ‘trending’. Techno-horror has a long, proud history in horror. Undoubtedly, this is in part due to filmmakers knowing that most people know about as much about computers, the Internet, etc, as they do. Conversely, many filmmakers get that the best horror movies probe into things that make us uncomfortable. Over the last several years, techno-horror movies have adapted, increasingly exploiting our fears about social media. Yes, the 1990’s scared us with exaggerated ideas about the Internet in movies like Brainscan. More recently, however, Unfriended and Host have us scared of YouTube and Zoom. Below are 10 examples of social media horror that you may want to click ‘subscribe’ on.
Megan is Missing (2012)
When Megan is Missing isn’t a boring slag, it’s irredeemably exploitative garbage. There’s absolutely nothing to recommend about this found-footage story of an online predator luring two teen best friends off the Internet. In fact, the only reason it’s on this list is because TikTok users haves inexplicably dug up this obscure movie and made it go viral. Throughout most of the movie’s runtime very little happens – director Michael Goi shows no sense of pacing or building tension. When the ‘horror’ does finally emerge, it’s a lazy, tasteless pastiche of shocking images and unnecessary sexual violence. In fact, Megan is Missing bares mention only for the fact that it has actually spawned a viral phenomenon years after its release.
Of all the movies on this list, #Horror comes closest to nailing the dark satire for which it was aiming. Writer and director Tara Subkoff’s story of social media-obsessed seventh-grade girls at a sleepover that goes horribly wrong has a lot to say. On one hand, it’s a horror movie about the dire consequences of cyberbullying. Yet Subkoff also tackles our obsession with sharing all aspects of our lives and the incessant need for viral attention. Not all the horror element gel together in #Horror. Moreover, some of Subkoff’s stylistic flourishes are occasionally distracting. Nevertheless, #Horror has enough going for it – and Subkoff shows plenty of promise – to make it worth clicking ‘subscribe’.
Friend Request (2016)
In a TikTok and Snapchat world, Friend Request is definitely a Facebook movie. Or maybe more of a MySpace movie. Popular college student Laura’s social calendar takes a hit when she ‘unfriends’ a lonely social misfit, Marina. When Laura doesn’t invite Marina to her birthday party, Marina sees the tagged photos and commits suicide. However, even in death, Marina isn’t done with Laura yet. Sadly, the movie wasn’t done yet either. Lacking any subtext (or scares), Friend Request is a rote attempt to cash-in on safe PG-13 films for less discerning pre-teen audiences. Somewhere in Friend Request is a potentially interesting look at the vanity and self-indulgence of social media, but the incorporation of Facebook is nothing more than a gimmick to appeal to younger audiences. Friend Request has nothing to say and can in fact barely justify its own runtime.
The Tragedy Girls (2017)
High school best friends McKayla and Sadie are your typical teenagers. They’re cheerleaders and sit on their school prom committee. Both worry and obsess over followers and likes on their Instagram accounts. And they also happen to be psychopaths. When they turn the tables on a local serial killer, the BFF’s decide to commit their own murders to drive up followers on their true crime blog, Tragedy Girls. It doesn’t necessarily trend new ground, but Tragedy Girls is wickedly fun. Moreover, it manages the difficult task of balancing bloody gore with snide humour. As compared to some of the other social media horror movies on this list, Tragedy Girls gets the ‘likes’ obsessed culture its skewering. Throw in its focus on the massive popularity of true crime blogs and podcasts, and Tragedy Girls combines great performances and a clever script, with a biting commentary on our social media obsession.
And finally we’ve arrived on social media horror movies skewering ‘influencers’. British YouTuber Sophie and her friends, Jessica and Lisa, head to Los Angeles for a social media convention. But after posting the tag, #followme, an unseen stalker menaces the trio on their trip. After arriving at a roadside motel, the girls abruptly went missing. To date, all the police have recovered is the trio’s video footage showing their last moments. If #FollowMe was supposed to be a morality tale about the perils of our self-absorbed, selfie culture, I guess it’s sort of a success. You’ll certainly hate ‘YouTubers’ and ‘Instagram Influencers’ after watching this movie. But as a movie with definable characters, suspense and tension, and a forward-moving story, #FollowMe is an absolute failure. Weighed down by at least an hour of nothingness, #FollowMe doesn’t deliver a payoff to justify its own existence. Consider this movie clickbait.
It’s the biggest gathering of social media ‘influencers’ on the planet. And as ViewCon kicks off, the biggest personalities from YouTube and Instagram turn out to boost their brands. But as the celebrities settle into their rooms, strange events begin to unfold. Soon these YouTubers have more to worry about then ‘likes’ and subscriptions. Yes, it’s utterly derivative, but Deadcon is such a slag that it’s unlikely to remind you of the better movies to which it aspires. Devoid of scares and suspense, while also lacking even some exploitative fare to score at least a few cheap thrills. Deadcon is an utterly pointless, cheap-looking movie. When it’s all over, one will wonder what the point of its social media focus was all about. It’s a concept ripe for subtext, but Deadcon does nothing with it.
Guess what, Unfriended is a damn good horror movie. To date, I’ve watched Unfriended a few times and it’s a movie that not only holds up to repeated viewings, it actually gets better. While it wasn’t the first horror movie to tells all of its story via computer screens (credit goes to The Den), Unfriended probably earned some mainstream acceptance for the format. On a superficial level, Unfriended is suspenseful and tense, with a truly gutting final reveal. All of the performances feel natural, too, which bolsters the impact of those final moments. Not everything in Unfriended works but it does enough right to deliver on its promised scares. Additionally, Unfriended does offer some context on the toxic viral nature of social media.
No, Searching is not a horror movie. Just try telling that to anyone who has children in our social media age. If other movies on this list often misunderstand what makes the technology frightening, Searching works because it knows what parents fear most about social media. First-time director Aneesh Chaganty squeezes maximum tension out of its computer and phone screen settings While it’s not the first movie to sets its action entirely on computer screens, Searching stands as one of the best uses of the approach. And John Cho’s performance is outstanding, serving as a reminder that we need more John Cho in movies.
Though Spree is somewhat of a mixed bag, it has a few big positives going for it. Like the other social media horror movies on this list, Spree addresses the toxic nature of our viral culture head on. And it’s focus on a character using social media to capture their own crime ‘spree’ is timely. But it’s Joe Keery’s (Stranger Things) awkwardly charismatic performance that’s likely to keep viewers watching Spree. As is often the case with hybrid movies, Spree’s mix of horror and comedy is often hit and miss. Most of the movies on this list missed the target of their critique on social media. Similarly, Spree’s satire is occasionally as blunt as some of its violence. Nonetheless, Spree was a bright spot in 2020, and one of the better social media horror movies on this list.
Well, that didn’t take long. Raise your hand if you heard of Zoom before COVID-19. Now it seems like we’re spending most of our lockdown on a Zoom meeting. One of two Shudder originals on this list – filmed during the 2020 lockdown – Host one up’s Unfriended by setting its abbreviated story entirely on Zoom. It’s simple hook finds a group of friends, cooped up and bored in lockdown, inadvertently opening the door to a demon with a Zoom séance session. Though it has nothing to say about social media, Host is a damn scary movie. For 60 minutes, Host will have you staring intensely into the corner of your screens, waiting for something to jump out. This is pure DIY, innovation made all the more impressive by the fact that it was done on the fly during a pandemic.
Another dig at social media influencers, our second Shudder original on the list, Shook, is an upgrade over #FollowMe and Deadcon. Director Jennifer Harrington steers her commentary on the vapid nature of ‘influencers’ a little closer to the mark in her story of an unseen stalker tormenting an Instagram darling. It’s a watchable movie even if it lacks the visceral shocks of those horror movies from which it borrows. Similar to other social media horror movies on this list, Shook struggles to cobble together a coherent subtext. It wants to say something about ‘influencers’, but that message blurs as the movie progresses. Still there’s enough early suspense to build goodwill to get you to a handful of decent twists. You many not remember Shook when it’s done, but there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes in lockdown.