As a filmmaker first and a YouTuber second, it’s no surprise that Hazel Hayes, director of the 8 part online series Prank Me, not only manages to find the pulse of society’s technological fears but squeezes it almost to bursting; when pranks go wrong and people dare to go to the extreme for that “like, comment, subscribe”, criminal paths are trodden all in the name of entertainment.
Launched on the recently collapsed US Subscription Video on Demand service Fullscreen in September last year this deliciously dark series now, in Hayes’ own words, ‘no longer exists’. However, with a handful of screen-based films coming to cinemas this year – namely, Aneesh Chaganty’s ‘Searching’ and Stephen Susco’s ‘Unfriended: The Dark Net’ – it’s evident that technology is moving ever closer to the realm of horrors, and Hayes captures this movement expertly.
“What’s up JazzPrankers!” It’s this intro, one that isn’t at all far from real YouTube videos, that opens the show and introduces us to our anti-hero Jasper ‘Jazz’ Perkins (Corey Fogelmanis). Jasper has just hit 100,000 subscribers on his channel ‘Jazz Pranks’ where he’s known for his over-the-top pranks aimed at his sister Sienna (Angharad George-Carey). Feeling squashed by the pressures of his family and his need to entertain his growing fanbase Jasper decides to get out, meet real people, and prank them good to the next level. What should be a cheery start to the show, and Jasper’s new series, is welcomingly ominous as he promises: “I’m coming for ya’”.
As Jasper gets out into the real world you see a subversion of the familiar relationships you might expect from a serial like this develop. There’s a constant awareness that, though Jasper is meeting these people for the first time, there’s already a one-sided connection between them due the nature of YouTube: whilst they see Jasper as a friend, to him they’re fans. And they’re ultimately expendable because of that biased trust. He pushes them to get involved, persuades them to go too far and pries on their support when things don’t go his way. “The JazzPrankers are going to love you”, he says to Carla (Rebecca Stone), his first fan turned co-host, and with those words his character is laid out; it’s all about the views, nothing about the people.
These following interactions with fans and family alike quickly descend down a gloriously creepy route as Jasper slowly loses his grip on reality – which, arguably, he never had to begin with. “SCARY CLOWN PRANK” becomes “KIDNAP PRANK” becomes “BUS BOMBER PRANK”. With each one Jasper takes a step down a criminal road; at first the dire consequences of such pranks are arguably unforeseen and unintended, but his viewers are hungry and his subscriber count is rising. Maybe malicious intent is exactly what he needs? Fogelmanis’ visceral performance is made all the more compelling through Hayes’ deliberate use of only POV shots. Everything that we see is filmed by Jasper, from his own vlog camera or GoPros he’s stealthily set-up, forcing the audience to get up close and personal with his growingly psychopathic character. Leaning into the camera, the white ring light reflecting in his eyes, it’s hard to not find enjoyment in his destructive ways. Filmed as if it were a YouTube video, we are constantly aware that these types of people, and these types of videos, do exist online today and despite the acknowledgement of their immorality they rack up hundreds upon thousands of ‘likes’.
The symbiosis of Hayes, Foglemanis, and writer Paul Neafcy, results in this brilliantly crafted psychological thriller that peaks with its show-down climax in the final episode. The supporting cast ground the show with great performances all round, in particular George-Carey and Stone stealing every scene in which they feature and creating such interesting dynamics with Foglemanis’ Jasper. Paced to ensure every episode is as tense as the last and full of dark twists expected of Hayes’ sinister style, it is truly a shame that Prank Me’s home, Fullscreen, a site dedicated to fuelling new creative talent when YouTube itself wont, was forced to shut down. But let’s reiterate the words of Hayes herself: “Whatever you do, don’t Google ‘watch Prank Me online’. I definitely wouldn’t recommend you do that.”.
By Alex Dewing
Alex is a Country Lass studying Comparative Literature at UCL. If not found at the cinema she’ll be binge-playing video games, listening to film scores, recording YouTube videos, or planning her next film project. As a serious nerd, she’s captivated by all things Sherlock, Marvel, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and is currently learning how to lightsaber. In Bruges, The Shape of Water, and Lost in Translation are some of her favourite films but will watch anything that’s put in front of her. Find her Tweeting and Letterboxd-ing at @alex_dewing