Since the turn of the decade, there has been an influx of social media-themed horror films — some decent, some outright awful — that were designed to take an internet-dependent audience and use their dependency against them in the pursuit of spooks.
While #horror films about social media often have the capacity to make our skeletons spring from our skins within the confines of their running time, they very rarely have a lasting effect on viewers that keeps them awake at night. Here are three theories as to why that might be:
1. Desensitized Audiences
The internet can be a wonderfully dark place, full of Creepypastas and urban legends that breathe life into entities such as Slender Man and Jeff the Killer. Stories and myths spawned in the minds of internet users are often twisted beyond the boundaries of horror films, and are made scarier by the fact that, in some cases, no one knows for sure whether they’re real or not. Unfortunately, the very people that are exposed to such content are the same people that the films are designed to reach.
Some writers have incorporated such themes into their films in an attempt to tap into what captures the interest of certain online communities — 2012’s Smiley being a prime example of this. The film focuses on an urban legend of a deformed smiling slasher who comes to kill anyone at the receiving end of a triple “I did it for the lulz” message, then later targets the sender themselves. YouTube icon Shane Dawson also appears in a further apparent attempt to appeal to the target audience.
Audiences have seen it all. This culture of mass consumption created by the internet means that there are fewer concepts that viewers are spooked by. As a result, they have developed a hard skin that is difficult to pierce.
2. Divergent Characters
There is definitely a reoccurring theme when it comes to character development in these films, and that is the blockishly stereotypical way in which they are depicted. We’ve seen them all — the health freak, the scary loner, the trolls — frankly, it’s hard to take them seriously when characters can sometimes feel more like they're mocking the internet community.
2015’s Unfriended is probably the most real depiction of the everyday internet user. It is centered around a Skype group call between six high school friends. The organic environment makes it fairly believable. The characters are by no means likable, but the clever way in which the film is shot (as if you are watching a computer screen), and the use of popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Skype and Spotify, brings the tale uncomfortably close to home.
Although some movies could follow said stereotypes in an attempt to converge with their target audiences, the result is often the opposite — kind of like a "hip" dad trying to get down with the kids. If the characters aren't relatable, then it is hard to feel frightened for them.
3. Detached Storylines
Let’s face it: most social media-based horror flicks can be a little far-fetched. More often than not, they involve a girl who commits suicide and then seeks revenge by becoming a phantom internet troll who kills her victims in a series of mind-controlled scenarios. The fact that storylines tend to be so over the top means that there’s no sense of possibility that leaves the viewer thinking twice before accepting a friend request from that quiet girl in their college class.
2015’s Ratter is probably one of the only exceptions, with a creepy cyber-stalker capable of infiltrating the lead’s (played by Pretty Little Liars star Ashley Benson) webcam and social media pages. Shot from the perspective of the stalker, the footage reveals the character’s intimate everyday moments and interactions, prompting us viewers to swiftly cover our own webcams. It dabbles with a danger that is all too real in this day and age and so is much more frightening in the long term than the more supernaturally focused plots out there.
There’s an abundance of topics to be explored that have not yet been touched. In real life, the internet can pose a huge threat if not handled with care, and this is a concept that could easily be exploited, making for longer lasting effects on audiences.
While there are some strong contenders on the social media horror flick front, on the whole there is something the subgenre seems to lack in the spook department. Maybe if more movies could hack into what it is that makes for a long-lastingly scary storyline, the topic will be able to continue to develop throughout future years without running dry.
Are there any social media-themed horror movies that have kept you up at night?