Written and Directed by: Tara Subkoff
Starring: Chloë Sevigny, Timothy Hutton, Haley Murphy
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Death is trending.
#Horror is an interesting proposition, if only because it’s certainly among the first post-millennial horror movies since its protagonists are a group of 12-year-olds. Typically, this genre has been a teenager’s game, but writer/director Tara Subkoff shifts her focus back a few years to see whatever the hell it is this current generation’s tweens are up to. If the film is any indication, growing up is still the same awkward hellscape it always was, only now its awfulness is amplified and broadcasted across social media. I know this sounds like an “old man shakes fist at The Cloud” moment, but this makes the era of e-mail and AIM seem quaint as hell. I couldn’t imagine being constantly plugged in with a sea of hormones raging at my back, constantly compelling me to post awful shit into the digital ether. (I'm grateful that AOL chat logs circa 1999 have disappeared forever is what I’m saying.)
As such, I’m more than happy to experience this modern digital hellscape by proxy through films like #Horror, which couch old genre tropes in this new reality. Case in point: Subkoff’s film is essentially a slasher movie, albeit one centered around snotty, upper-crust tween mean girls who gather at a posh abode off in the secluded woods despite the fact that none of them seem to particularly like each other. Self-absorbed and unable to put their phones down, the quintet tries on clothes, does impromptu dance routines, and raids the liquor cabinet, mercilessly bullying each other and documenting it on a social media. When ringleader Cat (Haley Murphy)---who recently lost her mother and has been in therapy— refuses to stop teasing one of the others about her weight, the group kicks her out of the house, where a psychotic killer happens to be roaming the grounds.
Viewers are well aware of the maniac thanks to an opening sequence that features the unseen killer brutally murder an adulterer (later revealed to be one of the girls’ father) and his mistress. It’s a sequence the feels requisitely plucked from the slasher mold, but it at least provides some reassurance in the form of bloodshed: eventually, just about everyone involved will find themselves in the crosshair of the murderer---or at least you hope so, anyway. Obviously, many slashers feature paper-thin characters that practically court the audience’s bloodlust, but #Horror goes the extra mile with an especially contemptuous set.
What’s worse, Subkoff strands you with them, sort of like when your mom would drop you off at a birthday party with a bunch of kids you didn’t really like very much at all. Long stretches of the film roll on without much plot development, subjecting the audience to the abject awfulness of these characters, from an ice queen matriarch (Chloe Sevigny, savage as hell) to every single one of the girls (even the “good girl” is complicit in the rampant bullying). Indulging in modern debauchery requires an extra edge in the social media component, and Subkoff features jarring graphical intrusions that reflect the girls’ social media interactions: each picture (most of which are tagged with biting insults) racks up dozens of “likes,” constantly highlighting just how glib they are.
While these interactions are obviously a bit heightened, #Horror attempts to reveal the authentically rotting core at the center of this culture, which is honestly no better or worse than any that came before it—it’s just that this particularly generation (and their parents, if we’re being real) broadcast their drama for everyone to see. Taking this as its focus, #Horror positions itself as a distant cousin to the likes of Spring Breakers and The Bling Ring, both of which similarly shook its fist at a superficial generation consumed by materialism (and this is not to mention Unfriended, which is even more of a kin to #Horror). Subkoff similarly reconfigures this even younger generation’s hedonism into a dreamy haze with handheld camerawork and stylish montages--this is not a film that lacks for style. It makes ennui look positively exquisite, a teenage daydream of shiny things that distract from the emptiness on display.
Other, similar films were more graceful at melding form to function than this one, though, as Subkoff clumsily hammers on one note, going so far as to provide an extended coda that has aghast newscasters commenting on the horrific violence in the final act, practically underscoring the film’s already obvious themes. There’s no missing just how awful everyone involved is when characters graduate from online bullying to posting actual murders to an audience whose engagement extends to clicking a “like” button.
Lost in all of this is the faintly affecting and resonant attempt to highlight how horrific adolescence can be for young girls. By the time its climax rolls around, #Horror has degenerated into a dull, awkward stalk-and-slash exercise that’s only noteworthy because it actually doesn’t shy away from inflicting violence on its cast. You may look at its cast of pre-teen characters and assume they aren’t fair game, but this isn’t the case. It’s just too bad it fails to generate suspense, memorable bloodshed, and mystery: unless you count Natasha Lyone’s brief appearance as one of the girls’ mother, it barely attempts to introduce a red herring outside of the exiled girl and her father (Timothy Hutton, suitably unhinged), who shows up in a wild-eyed rage, there are precious few culprits, making it easy to deduce the responsible party.
Well, unless you actually buy into a clumsily but kookily shoe-horned backstory involving the house’s sordid history with an Andy Warhol protégé who butchered a bunch of folks before disappearing . Occasionally, #Horror features that sort of inspired burst, only to do absolutely nothing with it. It feels appropriate that a film preoccupied with teenagers’ online interactions would be scatterbrained and saturated with extraneous junk—in a way, this little diversion doesn’t feel like a red herring so much as it’s a pop up ad that’s swiftly swatted away, never to be relevant again . I wish there were some meta method to #Horror’s madness, but it’s ultimately as hollow as the culture it attempts to eviscerate. When you point a lens at vacant, glass houses, it should be no surprise that it reflects nothing substantial.
#Horror is now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Scream Factory and IFC Midnight.
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