Tuesday, April 17, 2018

#Screamers: The Horror of Viral Videos

Can you imagine the endless debates among the producers whether or not to include the hashtag in the title? They must have been excruciating. Tom Brennan and Chris Grabow have that sort of argument all the time at Gigaler.com. They are sort of like YouTube for viral videos, but supposedly more curated. It hardly sounds like a revolutionary business model and their tight cash flows bears out our skepticism. However, they believe some creepy jump-scare videos might be the opportunity they have waiting for in Dean Matthew Ronalds’ #Screamers (trailer here), which releases today on VOD.

We really get to know Brennan and Grabow thanks to the corporate film their marketing guy Griffin is shooting. The in-house doc paints a rosy picture of a start-up on the rise, but we later learn the company’s financial position is much more precarious. The so-called “screamer” videos were just what they needed. Basically, an otherworldly goth girl distracts the viewer, setting them up for a jolt when the Screamer comes lunging at them from out of the corner. Traffic is booming, but they need exclusivity, so they (or rather Abbi, their best coder) tracks down the makers. The metadata leads them Rochester, NY, where the makers might be engaging in an elaborate but distasteful hoax, involving a local woman gone missing and Francis Tumblety, an American suspect in the Jack the Ripper case.

Frankly, it is sort of strange Tumblety’s Ripper connections have not inspired more horror movies. Yet, Ronalds and co-screenwriter Malloy only skim the surface of his eccentric weirdness. Instead, they vexingly devote almost the entire first two acts to establishing the interpersonal dynamics of Gigaler. Brennan is the obnoxious glad-hander, Grabow is nebbish and passive aggressive, while Abbi is the shy computer nerd (in this wacky alternate universe). We so get all that. What we want is more creepy stuff involving Tumblety and more backstory for the mysteriously missing Tara Rogers.

Indeed, it is frustrating how little time Ronalds and Malloy devote to legit horror movie business, because they actually created some intriguing mythology. Still, there is no question, as Brennan and Grabow, Malloy and Chris Bannow feel like annoying hipster tech partners, who are just itching to sell out their customers, like Facebook. All the Gigaler scenes feel totally believable and true to life, but that also means they aren’t a lot of fun.

There is just too much click-and-eyeball talk in #Screamers and not enough Rippers and missing persons. When the film finally gets down to business, it rushes through the third act, rather than trying to build extended tension. It is the sort of film that makes you want to do your own reshoots and re-editing. So frustrating, #Screamers releases today on VOD platforms.