Following 2014’s The Sisterhood of Night, a modern take on the Salem Witch Trials, director Caryn Waechter holds onto her interest in youth-culture-with-a-horror-twist as she turns her eye towards social media influencers in her sophomore feature Deadcon, that enjoyed its World Premiere at Cinepocalypse on Saturday (15th June).
Now, if there’s one thing we learned from the James Charles and Tati drama that recently flooded YouTube, it’s that social media stars are ridiculous creatures, so engrossed in their own vapidity and social gains that they too often can’t see the wood for the trees. The phenomenon of the desire to be constantly connected, always promoting a personal ‘brand’ and pushing new content makes way for some interesting explorations when taken down a horror route, as we’ve seen with recent films like Cam, Friend Request and Tragedy Girls.
Waechter’s film tries to take it a step further by casting real-life YouTube stars Lauren Elizabeth and Claudia Sulewski, who step into familiar roles as internet sensations attending an influencer convention called ViewCon. While the convention itself is held in a hotel’s conference room, the influencers settle into some of the suites upstairs. Unfortunately for Youtuber AKAAshley (Lauren Elizabeth), her room was sadly double booked, and with the hotel filled with bloggers and intagrammers the staff have no choice but to open up a previously locked, off-limits suite for her to stay in. Even worse still, this room is haunted by an old social media pioneer. Obviously.
As Ashley’s mental state begins to decline due to staying in the haunted room, her peers and manager put it down to stress and Ashley’s desire to leave the social media world behind. The film quite briefly touches on Ashley’s dissatisfaction with her very-much-available-to-anyone presence and her legion of very young fans that expect her to be a happy and cheery role model for them. Waechter does well not to shame these young people (both the influencers and their fans) for enjoying this lifestyle but the absolute absurdity of twenty or so 12-year-old girls running screaming up a flight of stairs with their phones to capture a picture of someone who does outfit reviews on YouTube is completely comical and concerning.
The interest in current youth culture is apparent, given Waechter’s previous work, but as modern as the subject matter is, it’s easy to feel like this has all been done before in a much more engaging way. The cursed hotel room is straight out of 1408, the confusing creepy kids and ritualistic blood paintings on the hotel suite walls could be pulled from every other horror film on a Netflix genre page.
The choice to not use the idea of social media as a visual format to tell the story is hugely disappointing (the film is largely depicted through a 3rd person perspective and occasional uploaded live streams from the YouTubers). However, there are a couple of tasters of seeing the horrors in Ashley’s suite unfold from that first-person video camera perspective Blair Witch made famous that bring the film to a much scarier level. By not utilising those found footage, real-time ideas the social media aspect adds very little to the story. Scotty Landes’ script is a tired mish-mash of overused genre moments and doesn’t attempt to add any critique (or even praise) on this generation’s interest in the internet and the lengths people will go to for views or popularity.
With the hotel’s haunting being supposedly committed by a man who pioneered an early form of online chatroom called LinkRabbit, and his desire to connect – ultimately with young children – the film reaches for a muddled message that has no emotional resonance. In short, if this film had influencers being haunted by a regular Victorian ghost or regular people being haunted by a tech pioneer, the film would play out in the same manner.
For such a socially conscious newsroom topic, Deadcon should be prepared to delve deep into the medium, to critique and utilise its forms through its chosen horror lens. Instead, a yawn-inducing script throws in tired tropes to mix with a topic chosen solely to feel culturally relevant; a social-media misfire that isn’t worth subscribing to.
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far 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