Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein’s satirical social media horror Clickbait opens with a young woman’s face staring vacantly at the screen, crying. She’s listening to an off-screen voice talking about a life threatening diagnosis. As the audio ends she rips out her earbuds and says “fucking cunt”.
This is Bailey (Amanda Colby Stewart), a popular social media star who is irritated to find that her top spot on video hosting site Str33ker has been taken from her by a girl dying of cancer. With this cut-throat sense of humour being the films staple, Cacciola and Epstein grapple with the audacity of online personalities and the ways in which they manifest and are exploited.
Bailey’s online personality is a one of the care-free popular girl, running around LA with her reluctant roommate Emma (Brandi Aguilar), she films ‘flashes’ for Str33ker and viewers give them ‘bolts’ aka likes for good content. It’s not like Bailey’s content is even that great or original, much like the mediocrity of our very own Instagram influencers, but Str33ker is the most important thing in her life and it entrenches itself in nearly every conversation she has, be it her peers or professors. With Bailey now knocked off the top spot her presence at a college Halloween party is not so welcome, with people with the highest ‘streaks’ becoming a valid replacement for a decent personality. It is after this party that Bailey and Emma are followed home by a masked individual (there are some creepy POV shots of the stalker filming through their phone) who quickly uploads footage onto Str33ker.
It seems that Bailey’s popularity soon increases the more of this footage is uploaded and she will do anything to keep herself in that top spot, much to the dismay of Emma, who enlists the help of rookie police officer Frank Dobson (Seth Chatfield) to keep watch on the house as the pair try to figure out who the masked creep is.
What starts out as a fairly straightforward and linear plot soon becomes dabbled with some more experimental moments; scattered between scenes are advertisements for the fake product Toot Strudels, Str33kers sponsor. Clickbait clings onto its witty and biting humour during these moments as various characters from the film advertise Toot Strudels to varying effects as a funny take on #SponCon culture.
There are also surreal dream sequences from both Bailey and Emma who have reoccurring nightmares about the identity of the killer, but when these same dreams break up the central plot repeatedly it becomes tiresome, much like the repetitive use of a Halloween-esque synth score that follows the killer and drags out the films mid-section.
The references the film reaches for are plain to see and the message certainly not lost, but it’s definitely been done before in a much tighter way. There are plenty of moments not dissimilar to Cam or even Nerve– it just often feels like Clickbait has too much going on. The films tongue may remain firmly in its cheek (the killers mask is an all-white version of Donald Trump) but the varying styles it chooses to critique online culture in end up feeling disjointed.
Clickbait is filled with some real moments of hilarity largely due to Amanda Colby Stewart’s deadpan millennial performance. The script certainly works in depicting how we cultivate our online personas and maintain them but never feeling like it has to slam the individuals for partaking in them in the first place. It often feels like a whistle-stop tour of everything wrong with internet culture, and while the satire is certainly there, the need to explore so many different avenues results in an overload within the films visual style.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of Screen Queens. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her lifesource is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends way too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here