[review by JA Kerswell]
Those expecting a standard slasher movie could be disappointed by #HORROR (and judging by the love-it-or-loathe-it reactions it seems that many fall into the latter category). It is a strange beast to be sure. At times it almost feels like European arthouse rather than a North American horror movie. And, at times, it was so shrill that I was tempted to switch it off. I'm glad I didn't. #HORROR is one of the most interesting of the current crop of social media themed genre films.
life and trials of the uber rich in #HORROR
Rich tween Sofia (Bridget McGarry) is throwing a party for her friends (and frenemies) at her vast, remote home: the troubled Cat (Hayley Murphy), who has just been read the riot act by her father (Timothy Hutton) over cyber bullying; the overweight Georgie (Emma Adler); the tomboyish Francesca (Mina Sundwall) and the waifish Ava (Blue Lindeberg). They are joined by new-kid-on-the-block, Sam (Sadie Steelert), who is desperate to hide the fact that she's not as rich as the rest of the girls. She is dropped off by her mother (a cameo by Natasha Lyonne, who oddly doesn't reappear in the movie).
Early on, one of the characters says that they say mean things to each online because that's just what they do; that it doesn't mean anything. However, as the movie goes on it becomes clear that their online sparring is only a mask for genuine bitchiness and insecurity. The girls seem both aware and unaware of this - and whilst initially being delighted with the trappings of wealth they actually crave normality and stability. Yet they simply cannot help themselves and oscillate between genuine human reactions and reverting to what is expected of them by their peers (bitchy aloofness, snobbery and backstabbing). However, it is their complete lack of understanding of real world consequences of online bullying that is their ultimate downfall.
It is, of course, not surprising that they behave this way as most of the adults in the movie are also supremely self-obsessed. No more so than Bridget's mother (ChloŽ Sevigny), who leaves the girls home alone and refuses to leave an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (which she drives to cradling a glass of vodka!) to check on the them because she wants 'me time'. This despite the fact that she, her daughter and her husband live in separate parts of the huge modernist mansion and she apparently does little else apart from directing other people to satisfy her whims.
a pint-sized killer lurk behind the mask?
#HORROR has been described as both a satire and a pastiche, but really it's more of a damning indictment of a modern life lived so entirely online that real life almost ceases to resonate. Where social media has trumped organic reactions and emotions to such an extent that when the girls suggest they lock their phones away they are briefly almost unable to function, and have to relearn (or perhaps learn for the first time) how to interact with each other on a genuinely human level without selfies. It, of course, also means that they cannot call for help once the time comes.
The film seems to be purposely as jarring as a roomful of shrieking tweens. The flashes of gawdy, neon coloured social media graphics at odds with the elegant cinematography of the snowy countryside that surrounds the house. The frozen wastes outside seem to reflect the genuine chill inside; the disconnections and dysfunction that lie beneath the obvious glitz and excess. The house is full of modernist artwork and sculptures, but lacks any warmth or evidence that real people live there. Even though it is set on the run up to Christmas, there are no decorations on show.
Teenage victims are two-a-penny in the slasher movie, But few have been so audacious to set up a row of victims who have not yet reached adolescence (Dario Argento wanted to for SUSPIRIA (1975), but was talked out if it). It is therefore even more shocking when the girls begin to die. On the cusp of thirteen, the girls seem keen to race towards adulthood (they drink booze and talk about boys), but their mock sophistication can't hide the fact that they are essentially children and still enjoy playing dress up. Children, without the conditioning of adulthood and social etiquette, can be uniquely cruel to each other and anyone they perceive to be different. This lack of understanding of the consequences of spite and teasing seems to underpin the whole film and ultimately leads to a chain of violence that they had no way to predict. Bullying, of course, is nothing new, but the movie persuasively argues that social media has supercharged it. It's cyclical nature is emphasised by Sam's character who, it turns out, moved school after attempting suicide because of being bullied previously, but appears to be condemned to relive her torment at the hands of her new 'friends' because she'll never fit in no matter how hard she tries.
a tweenage massacre!
On the surface, it is difficult to know what the writer/director Tara Subkoff's intentions are. Not only is the film a damning indictment of modern life, but it could also be a damning indictment of the slasher movie, too. Then again, perhaps not. Although it opens with a splashy double murder of Sofia's father (Balthazar Getty) and his mistress (Lydia Hearst), the majority of the the film depicts the sparring friendships of the core group of twelve year old girls, who oscillate between having fun and falling out with each other. However, the girls are constantly being watched (a comment on the always online lives many of us lead) by a person outside only distinguished by black leather gloves. The glass fronted building means that little is ever out of view. In other words, the girls are always on show to both the audience and the killer.
With a nod to the classic slasher movie setup, a potential boogeyman is the ex owner of the home: a pop artist who, in the 1960s, killed guests at his party that were tardy in leaving, and then vanished. Could he be the killer? Or is it Cat's surgeon father (Hutton) or perhaps even one of the girls? Hutton is outstanding as the increasingly deranged father who waves a butcher's knife about at the tweens, in a supercharged scene, when his daughter disappears (which does little to persuade the audience of his innocence).
The film doesn't really switch gears into classic slasher movie mode until the last 25 minutes, or so, when the killer appears wearing a pop art mask and starts to menace the girls. It is perhaps unsurprising that it is topped off with a coda that seems to not only criticises its own audience, but turns the postmodern cynicism up to 11.
The lasting taste of nihilism (that online notoriety is better than
living) is difficult to shake and makes it a hard movie to like. Yet, #HORROR
is unique and, given the homogenised nature of similar social media horror
movies, that's more than enough to recommend it to those who are up for
something a little different.