It all starts with a video from a friend. Everything seems innocent enough, your focus entirely on some innocuous activity happening, when suddenly, a creepy figure pops up, screaming and startling you. It’s the ultimate jump scare. These videos were super popular for a stretch in the mid-2000s, but they still pop up from time to time. Dean Matthew Ronalds new film, #Screamers (2018) takes the origin of these videos and tells a slightly more sinister story.
Chris (Chris Bannow) and Tom (Tom Malloy) are the subjects of a documentary led by Griffin (Griffin Matthews) about their startup, giga!er.com. They’re goal is to create a website that tailors internet videos to the subscribers of the website using user history and cookies. A screamer video is submitted and quickly becomes a hit. As another video comes in, they have their resident tech guru Abbi (Abbi Snee) to try and track down who is making the video. As they start going further into the identity of the filmmakers, the videos appear to be linked to the case of a missing woman, deepening the mystery further.
#Screamers is a found footage movie, which will be a deterrent for some and a draw for others. The premise of the movie lends itself to the format and works well with the storytelling. It’s also a bit of a slow burn, but even though there are some definite stretches in the plot, the mystery unfolds in an interesting way. They also do a decent job of justifying why the cameras are filming as much as they are, which continues to be an issue in a lot of found footage movies.
The foundation of the movie is a little flimsy. The idea of the screamer videos is not a new one. The earliest one of note popping up in 2003. So, the idea that in 2018 a screamer video is going viral to the level described in the film is a little bit of a stretch. As the mystery unfolds, the audience may have to employ more than a little bit of willing suspension of disbelief. It’s ridiculous, but it’s compelling enough that you want to keep watching.
The cast has a good chemistry with each other and are natural and at ease in front of the camera. That should be a given in found footage movies, but it’s a tricky thing to achieve. Chris and Tom seem as though they have a history and have known each other awhile. There’s a sort of awkward goofy charm to them. Griffin Matthews, as the man behind the camera, has the challenge of creating a complete character whom we don’t see for a lot of the movie, yet his character is a standout. The moments the audience does see him in front of the camera deliver some fantastic facial expressions and one liners.
For a movie that has its premise in the ultimate of internet jump scares, the movie itself is rather devoid of them, which is a point in its favor. Most of the first part of the film is spent trying to unravel the mystery with the final act ramping up the tension and the chills, and inevitably, jump scares. As horror fans know, jump scares are not actually an indicator of how scary a movie is, but they are an easy and cheap way to make the audience react. Yet #Screamers shy’s away from what would have been a rather obvious way to get a quick scare, and the movie is better for it.
As with many lower budget horror films, the ending is predictable and a bit of a letdown. The action is solid but follows the formula a little too perfectly so that every beat is fairly obvious. After some truly surprising and interesting twists midway, to fall back on so on run of the mill horror tropes was a bit anticlimactic. Even the jump scares became by the books, the moments being telegraphed to the point where they lost their impact. However, that’s getting a bit knit-picky. The ending isn’t bad, per se, but after setting up a unique story, to switch to the expected was disappointing.
#Screamers is a very watchable film. The story is unique, the acting solid and while the storytelling is maybe a bit messy at times, it keeps you entertained. And ultimately, not every movie needs to have a deeper meaning or being a stunning piece or artistic brilliance. Sometimes a movie just needs to be fun and entertaining. Just make sure you’re not secretly part of a screamer video of your own.
3.75 internet videos that do not feature cats out of 5
Originally printed in Belladonna magazine.