Of the many, many found footage films released since The Blair Witch Project, Dean Matthew Ronalds’ #Screamers most convincingly impersonates a documentary. Just as Catfish drew on found footage conventions to add suspense to an exploration of a real phenomenon that it got to name, #Screamers borrows back the look and feel of Catfish as it spends a long first act pretending to be the in-house chronicle of gigaler.com, a youtube-like video-hosting site, and its contrasting bosses, outgoing Tom (Tom Malloy) and buttoned-down Chris (Chris Bannow). Griffin (Griffin Matthews) follows his bosses around their office space as they monologue about their big plans, peeping in on shy coder Abbi (Abbi Snee) and generally catching the feel of an ambitious tech start-up, where everyone gets along reasonably well but there’s already a sense that ever-spieling Tom is getting ahead of the game and needs to be reined in by his collaborators to avoid disaster.
Then, gigaler receives a creepy video with a shock jump from an anonymous source – and the thing starts getting megahits, prompting Tom to order his minions to track down the creators and sign them up to an exclusive deal. Another video comes in, featuring the same menaced girl and the same toothy, black-masked (or is it a mask) boogey man. Tom has a few strange phone conversations with a girl called Tara, who might be the videos’ star – and who seems to be in thrall to someone called Francis, and surprisingly not interested in fame or fortune. Then online commentators raise the possibility that the girl in the videos (Theodora Miranne) is Tara Rogers, who went missing two years ago. And, in the third act, the merry gang leave their offices and head for snowy upstate New York – in a very Catfish sort of way – to dig deeper into the mystery, which leads to a gravesite associated with a famous historic crime and an apparently abandoned house.
It’s possible that this project began as a way to spin a whole horror film out of those seconds-long freak-out clips that do the rounds, but this shies away from doing obvious creepypasta or Slenderman riffs and instead goes deeper into the milieu of the monetised internet – which, by coincidence, happens to be in the news as a concern in the month the film comes out. In the context of Cambridge Analytica, it might be argued that genial, big-thinking motivational speaker Tom Brennan is a scarier bad guy than the anonymous gurner who jumps up into frame in the clips and stalks the last act of the film as it clicks into the expected Blair Witch mode of having cameras dropped or clung to by fleeing folk until the big bad pounces to inflict an unspecified fate. Ronalds (Netherbeast Incorporated) scripted by Malloy (The Attic).