A college student who will do just about anything for Internet fame is kidnapped by a fan, and her reluctant roommate is the only one who can save her in this horror satire of popularity culture.
Michael J. Epstein
Michael J. Epstein
Amanda Colby Stewart
Ryan James Hilt
Tonight’s episode brings us a quote from The Breakfast Club. At the film’s conclusion, there is the voice-over from Brian (Anthony Michael Hall), which includes the dialogue, “You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.”
So simply, this film I’ve just screened, is a horror/comedy. But that’s the easy route. There’s more going on here, and yet the film can be – at times – remarkably shallow. And that may have been the point.
Bailey (Amanda Colby Stewart) is a bubbly college co-ed, obsessed with social media – namely a site called “Str33ker.com”. She’s got tons of followers and has ruled the site for the past seven weeks… that is until one of her competing Str33kers announces that she has cancer. Luckily, someone has begun stalking Bailey and her wallflower roommate Emma (Brandi Aguilar) – and using Bailey’s own account to post some – shall we say – obtrusive and bothersome videos of the two roomies. Bailey’s Str33ker views skyrocket – properly matching the mounting dangers creeping up on both Bailey and Emma.
The two lead actors at the center of the film are 180 degree difference in their acting abilities (based on what’s been presented here).
Amanda Colby Stewart is a natural. She perfectly captures the shallow behavior of social media obsessed Bailey. I’m reminded of the performance (as well as of the character) of Happy Death Day’s Jessica Rothe. It’s an apt comparison – aside from the fact that Bailey’s lesson learned doesn’t quite have the same heft as that of Happy Death Day’s Tree. But what’s most impressive about Stewart’s performance, is that even in the midst of so much tomfoolery, she still manages to have a few moments of emotional weight. There’s a sequence where Bailey and Emma have a true heart-to-heart, about what Bailey should do with her life. It’s a lovely and welcome moment of authenticity, and shows that Stewart has some deeper acting chops.
That heart-to-heart moment is great, but somewhat out of place. And while I’m on that subject, I do wish the film would have dug a little deeper into this side of the characters (or any characters for that matter). It did what it needed to do with the absurd, “I need to be loved by my online ‘friends’”, but one of the film’s shortcomings was that lack of depth. It was almost there, and Stewart’s heavier moments (so very few) were a good indication of much more to be had.
I don’t think it’s a matter of me not getting what the filmmakers were attempting, and my wish for something heavier (you can still accomplish such a thing in the midst of silliness and in-your-face social commentary) isn’t that far out of left field. And this moment from Stewart proves that.
As Bailey’s wall-flower roommate, Emma, Brandi Aguilar doesn’t have the same “grab the audience” quality as her counterpart in this film. I felt as though Aguilar had basically one level to her acting – a wide-eyed, “deer in the headlights” reaction to everything. And she had a strange habit of losing eye contact with her scene partner (regardless of who it was) and sort of looking off to the side. She never looked directly into the camera, but at least a dozen times, it felt like she wanted to. It was very distracting. And while Stewart offered some genuine “human” moments, Aguilar never even came close. Perhaps she was directed that way, but I don’t think that this approach did the character any favors.
As for supporting performances, they’re goofy and enjoyable, but nothing more than simple caricatures. My favorites come from the two handsome male leads – as Detective Frank Dobson, Seth Hatfield channels some serious Pablo Schreiber from Orange is the New Black (complete with a pornstache). And Ryan James Hilt as Chase – the nerd who has his eye on Bailey – is an adorable and awkward guy, who you’ll automatically root for and want to offer a hug to ease his many woes. And his nerd-laugh gives Robert Carradine’s “Lewis Skolnick” a run for its money.
The frequent cutaways to appropriately-themed commercials for “Toot Strudels” (a thinly-veiled version of Pop-Tarts) are a fun way to transition from scene to scene. Completely over-the-top and wacky (“Toot Strudels” are sponsors of Str33ker), my favorite had to be the ad from the perspective of Bailey’s stalker – how such treats are perfect for those cold nights, watching people sleep through their bedroom windows. Classic!
Some of the best visuals come in the form of a recurring nightmare (shared by both girls). I loved the lighting, the slow motion close-ups of blood drops and the repetition of unmaskings – of potential suspects. But, there could have been some judicious cutting of one of these dream sequences, as it seems to go on endlessly. But I loved the bold and unique lighting and the cinematography overall.
Clickbait is a bit of an odd bird. And that’s not a bad thing, but it does present some problems in what I would call “standard storytelling”.
The overall concept is quite current, and biting (the main villain wears a Trump mask – delicious), but as I mentioned above, I personally wanted some additional characterization. There’s no reason that an off-the-wall, visually daring film can’t also check those very important boxes (at least for my money).
It could be argued that this vapidness is the entire point – but I still want characters I can love and follow and care for – at least eventually (again – think Happy Death Day’s Tree).
Surprisingly, the film is rather endearing, but again – think how much more of a connection could have been made, if the characters were given just a little more love and little more nuance.
Obviously, the film was inspired by Carpenter’s Halloween. We get plenty of POV-killer shots (in this case, it’s all part of Str33ker) and heavy synthesizer “stalking” music. And with the oddball vibe, you may take away a few John Waters’ inspirations as well.
Not all of the jokes land perfectly, but when they do (I’m thinking of the “sexy underwear” conversation between Emma, Bailey and Detective Dobson – perfect) – expect genuine guffaws.
In the end, the film is enjoyable and visually entertaining (and original). However, social commentary with only the light whispers of “real” characters, doesn’t necessarily make for the most engaging audience journey.
Quite simply, Clickbait is a horror/comedy (“you’ll see us as you want to see us”), but it’s a much more off-beat version of the usual horror/comedy fare.
Clickbait is now making its way across the festival landscape, so stay tuned for further information on a wider release.