A clutch of films around at the moment have youtuber/Instagrammers being haunted, terrorised or otherwise given a hard time – FrightFest is also screening Death of a Vlogger and Ghost Killers vs Bloody Mary. This is as much an inevitable update on the found footage genre as it is a riding of the zeitgeist. It’s also true that youtube mayflies are easily characterised as the sort of annoying bubbleheads you want to see killed off in a slasher movie.
Caryn Waechter’s Deadcon – scripted by Scotty Landes, who also wrote Ma – doesn’t so much lampoon the selfie generation (and their fans) as give an honest picture of what they’re like. It’s refreshing that the film doesn’t make its barely-grown style icons simply shrill, brittle caricatures. There’s even a seam of sympathy for its most doomed characters and some sense of the pressures they’re under, even as Waechter delivers a spook story in which the pursuit of fame – and, in a nice touch, being snippy and entitled to a hotel check-in clerk – leads to possession and mutilation. The whole history of social media is also spanned by the premise – the prologue, set in 1981, has inventor John Althaus (Aaron Hendry) cracking up in a hotel suite when his partner pulls the financial plug on LinkRabbit, his ahead-of-its-time, modem-based online chat system and doing something terrible but vague which starts a ghost story that features Bobby (Judah Mackey), a creepy little kid (who may be a spontaneously generated LinkRabbit AI) with a smiling rabbit balloon (that later proves more versatile than the balloon in It). Then, decades later, the same hotel is the site of Vuecon, attended by a horde of mostly female influencers and their mostly younger female fans.
AKA Ashley (Lauren Elizabeth) is having some sort of existential crisis about her hollow fame, but is still full enough of herself to have her long-suffering manager (Mimi Gianopoulos) lambaste the hotel after a reservations mix-up – which gets her the 1408-type suite none of the staff want to step into. Megan (Claudia Sulewski), a friendly rival, is more hung up on juggling two equally superficial boyfriends to notice when the creepy stuff starts happening, and in a smartly-written sequence is understandably so affronted that Dave (Keith Machenkanyanga) has surreptitiously recorded them having sex that she won’t watch the clip to the end when ghosts manifest. Ashley falls under supernatural influence and starts hunting for friends for Bobby, which leads to the misapprehension that her shoeless, wild-haired zombie stagger is a now imitable trend but also to the accurate #ashleyispossessed trending. It doesn’t take the obvious body count route or pay off too many grudges – even if someone does get a mobile phone shoved down their throat – and dares not to explain away too much of what’s going on. Waechter, who made The Sisterhood of the Night, has an insteresting take on subject matter which will usually be the springboard for cheap shots. The score/sound design, which uses modem shrills and ‘80s style electronica to evoke the ghost of dead tech, is especially effective.