An upstart tech company receives a mysterious horror video. Once it goes viral on their site, they attempt to contact the anonymous filmmakers, looking for more videos. But as they dig further, a terrifying mystery develops.
We’ve all seen those annoying/thrilling videos where you’re supposed to intensely focus on something creepy, subtle and/or slow-moving in the background on-screen, only to be shortly thereafter, greeted by some screeching ghost/monster face directly in front of you. We’ve all fallen for them numerous times. And I’m not sure about you, but I never seem to learn.
Well, we got a bit of a special sneak peek at a new film called #Screamers, and the film goes a step beyond the 30-second scare-treat and follows the story to the actual source of one of these disturbing viral videos.
#Screamers is technically still in post-production, so there may still be tweaks here and there before the final product reaches you. And with that statement, you can surmise that we’re not doing a retrospective review on the 1995 Peter Weller film of a similar name, which I have not (forgive me) ever had the pleasure of viewing.
No, this picture centers on the upstart business Gigaler.com – a YouTube-style website which will soon introduce software which will take in your web-surfing habits and begin to tailor-make homepages and offer content based on your clicking preferences. They want to make your internet experience a two-way street. As you learn more about Gigaler.com, it in turn will learn more about you. The two founders, Tom (Tom Malloy) and Chris (Chris Bannow) are two very different-minded go-getters, and when one of the aforementioned “screamer” videos is dropped into their company’s lap (and to their immense pleasure, immediately goes viral), they want to quickly gain full control and have this (and the filmmaker’s other properties) as an online exclusive. So when their research brings up some very strange situations (including some creepy Jack the Ripper connections and a for-real missing girl), they take two of their employees (Griffin Matthews as Griffin and Abbi Snee as Abbi) into rural New York state to meet – and hopefully persuade – the mysterious creators into a business deal.
The performances in #Screamers are all pretty remarkable. It’s just a bunch of pseudo-hipsters trying to make it big with their upstart tech company – and we follow them around their office as the events of the film unfold. What’s always difficult to accomplish in scenarios such as this, is to accurately capture these slice-of-life moments. One false move or even one slightly wonky line delivery, and the delicate suspension of disbelief is shattered. Amazingly, #Screamers completely sells the façade. And just so you know how expert and smooth this acting ensemble is, here’s an appropriate anecdote. Even though I was floored by all that was The Blair Witch Project – even on my first viewing before all the hype and before I knew anything about the film – I had two fleeting doubts about performer moments in that landmark picture. Like a sore thumb, they stuck out as forced and inauthentic. In #Screamers, there were none. In my estimation (and with my initial joy and now everlasting love for The Blair Witch Project), that’s quite a recommendation.
Tom Malloy as Tom and Chris Bannow as Chris, are the people we most see, as they are the characters being filmed for a recruiting video. Their reactions and interactions are totally authentic. Among their best mutual moments – a second phone call to Tara (apparently the beautiful girl in the strange videos). Tom is trying to smooth talk her as Chris records the exchange. Chris attempts to silently communicate with Tom as he schmoozes with Tara. It’s all organic and among the truest moment of this off-the-cuff filming – Tom sits with his legs up on the chair (it’s late at night and he’s in his jammies) and he moves – unknowingly spreading his legs, allowing Chris to get a crotch shot. There is laughter, even though Tom is still on the phone. It’s just a tiny example of the realness created by the actors and the situation. You get this realism all the way through. I don’t know how much of this may have been improvised, but there’s an easy recognition between all of these characters as they go about their business together – they know one another, they trust one another, and these important and genuine performances are a major selling point for #Screamers.
And you’re wondering if there are scares. Of course there are. I mean, based on the premise of the videos which drive the story, you’re bound to get some good jumps – through the videos as well as the situations in which the characters find themselves… and the eventual intense payoff. And when our little group does reach the address from whence the videos came (the first time is at night – much to the chagrin of the rest of the group, Tom takes them directly there) there’s a pointed sense of dread. It’s just some old house in a snowy field, but director Dean Ronalds immediately makes you feel very uneasy, in a most appetizing way.
Surprisingly, my big gripe about this film is not my usual found footage complaint. I truly enjoyed getting to know the characters, but it took a bit too long for them to finally make the move to just follow the clues and visit the address where the videos originated. While all of the corporate hijinks, video discoveries and character development were expertly done back in the “office”, I found myself wondering when we might finally get to the meat of the mystery.
And let’s get this off of our chests. As I said, it is a found footage film. There’s no denying it. But for those of you who have read my other reviews, you know my problem with such films — make the first person shtick work. Make me believe it and I will forgive the overuse of this tired device. And dammit, #Screamers does it. You see, they’re filming the executives and staff of this upstart website – presumably to gain investors and to recruit additional staff. And when things actually do go south, there’s little to no time for characters to drop their devices and fight for their lives.
I saw an article from a few years back while #Screamers was still in early development, that veteran horror director Tom Holland (Fright Night, Child’s Play) was attached to direct. Clearly that didn’t come to pass, but with Dean Ronalds at the helm, the film is an absolute joy and perfectly spooky.
The bottom line here is that #Screamers’ use of found footage may not be the most original idea, but you’re already a step ahead if you have at your production’s disposal: gifted actors, believable dialogue and expertly-produced scare tactics. With generous and effective gifts like that, it’s easy to overlook the fact that found footage films are still running rampant across our horror screens.
There’s not yet a release date for #Screamers (or even an IMDb page for that matter), but it’s one you can expect to pick up quick distribution and turn over a pretty penny. It’s definitely worth your time and your dime. #SEEIT.