An expanded version of a 2019 short film. Director Travis Bible, who co-wrote with Kemerton Hargrove, must be ticked off that in the gap between his short and this feature, about half a dozen films (Dashcam, Deadstream, Death of a Vlogger, Shook, etc) have done very similar things and used very similar devices. It risks getting lost in a cluster of movies about variously obnoxious influencers/social media personalities venturing into haunted or dangerous locations with more concern for their follower count than anyone’s personal safety … and then being tormented, harrassed, mangled, possessed, done away with or – as promised by the title – axed. The most distinctive element of this take is something that’s become a convention of these films – the constant stream of comments from followers that counterpoints or distracts from the main action and allows for jabs at the frankly-beyond-satire world of internet crazes (note the fetishist who keeps posting in vain for more views of the principles’ feet).
Mild-mannered Steve (Michael Bonini), aka ‘Spicy Steve’, has been pranked often by the much more popular, exponentially more obnoxious Chad (Spencer Harrison Levin) but that’s sort of okay since it bumps up Steve’s follower count. Along with ‘Spennifer’ – Spencer (Cameron Vitosh) and Jennifer (Taneisha Fugueroa) – a couple who do make-up tips postings, Chad and Steve venture into Devil’s Manor, where a cult once killed a bunch of people (the backstory is pretty vague). The quartet are squabbling and sniping well before they get to the mansion, and the anonymous scrawl of posters don’t do anyone any favours – with the possibility that other pranksters are lurking, and the certainty that shit is going to go down. In the mansion, a hanging body is found and – surprisingly believably – the gang assume it’s a gag and hang a hat on it, not even fased when it’s not there when they look again.
In many ways, this follows the structure of Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, a prehistoric item in social media terms, as nasty young folks lark about in a bad place and mess with a corpse who eventually gets his own back. Even a cursory look at real-life influencers reveals that, if anything, Levin underplays the nails-down-a-blackboard ‘tude of the here today/axed tomorrow front man in a lime green hoodie – but that highlights an issue with this whole cycle (Deathstream, with a slightly older and more unsure protagonist, sidestepped it) in that the lead character is so ghastly (and, what’s worse, bad company) that it’s impossible to get involved when the monsters or whatever are after them (the last line of the film, however, is perfect even if it sets out the self-defeating argument of the whole cycle).
We’re getting to the point where it might be interesting to see a pro-influencer horror movie.