I’ve mentioned before that in current horror cinema, being a youtuber is as much an invitation to get cursed and mangled as being an archaeologist on an expedition to a mummy’s tomb used to be in classic horror. This is among the most elaborate exploration of the theme to date – and rare in that it pays attention to the way social media actually work rather than just making the young, obnoxious types who wander into the woods vloggers simply to update the themes of Cannibal Holocaust or The Blair Witch Project. Not quite a found footage feature, this is a mock-documentary – complete with to-camera interviews and replayed clips – that upfronts its subject in the title, though as it wears on there’s a suggestion that just not being a vlogger anymore counts as a death just as painful for the subject as being killed by a J-horror-style lank-haired, white-dressed spook girl (or, in another possibility, hider in the house).
At the centre of the story is Graham (writer-director Graham Hughes), the only person who isn’t interviewed for the documentary (uh-oh), a young Glaswegian who hones his craft of posting videos of himself doing schtick well before he hits on the supernatural as a way to get more follows and likes. When his new-build flat seems to become a locus for paranormal activity, he’s taken up by Steve (Paddy Kondracki), a more aggressive online ghost-hunter and fame-seeker, and along with his relatively media-shy friend Erin (Annabel Logan) appears in a series of ever-more elaborate spook clips (including a séance) that attract a lot of attention. Along comes Alice (Joma West), who is as committed to debunking as Steve is to ‘bunking’, and Graham starts getting nervous about the prospect of something worse than any ghost, an internet shaming.
The storyline plays a balancing game about how much of the haunting is staged for the camera, and strings out the mystery beyond the obvious reveal – the proper scary stuff (and the film has a couple of actual jump scares) happens after most of the online world has written Graham off as a sham. Perhaps in reaction to the valorisation of the dubious Ed and Lorraine Warren in the Conjuring films, there have been a few recent movies tackling the subject of paranormal hoaxers – though this blurs the distinctions between simple japes and monetised fraud, with all the participants justifying what they do in different terms and Alice the myth-buster plainly just as determined to get an internet reach as Steve the would-be star. All the while, as the verity of what’s going on is debated, Graham is cracking up (‘I’ve seen him act and he’s not that good,’ Erin deadpans) and there are some subjective nightmare-haunting sequences that suggest either the ghost is in the machine or an editor is tampering with the footage. Obviously inexpensive, but ambitious and solidly acted – with plenty of thematic meat to chew over.