#Horror Dir. Tara Subkoff

[IFC Films; 2015]

Styles: socially relevant horror
Others: Book Of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Men Women and Children

Films that say something about current cultural trends always tread a fine line between preaching and observation. The good ones are able to offer insight into societal conditions without detracting from a powerful filmic experience; the bad ones feel like overblown PSAs or leaflets that harangue audiences without offering anything new — or at least entertaining — in their presentation. Unfortunately, #Horror, the new film from writer and director Tara Subkoff, is one of the latter films, harping on the dangers of isolation and solipsistic views in the age of social media like an old man yelling at a cloud. The resulting film is heavy-handed with its message, but even that would be allowed if the rest of the movie weren’t mostly such a mess.

A group of 12-year-old girls gather at a friend’s house for a slumber party. They dress up in the mother’s (Chloe Sevigny) clothes and jewelry and pose for Instagram and Twitter pics with various hashtags. They say weirdly hurtful things to each other and barely seem like friends, until one goes too far and is forced to leave the house. Slowly but surely the bodies start to stack up as someone is killing people at and around the house, posting photos and videos of the acts online. Is it the girl who was kicked out? Maybe it’s her distant and yet somehow also overly protective father? Or another person entirely who is spying on the group and attacking them for their own sick reasons like gaining Internet infamy and new followers with these hideous acts?

Like most elements of #Horror, the mystery doesn’t really add up to much beyond being an excuse to accuse today’s culture of being emotionally shallow and self-absorbed with winning social media points. [editor’s note: be sure to follow Tiny Mix Tapes on Facebook and Twitter] In fact, there’s very little to recommend in Subkoff’s film, which has some terrible performances by adults who should know better, heavy-handed plotting, dialogue that lands far too hard on the nose, and pointless splashes of animation and ostensibly artful embellishments (like having a painting of a giant egg pulse on the screen for no reason except… nope, there’s just no reason for it). Like a tone-deaf junior high version of Spring Breakers, the filmmaker is clucking her tongue at the excess of these upper class twits who remain in their own bubbles of egotism without realizing the potential for pain and upset that could be caused.

The film isn’t completely irredeemable: the performances by the young girls are all well done and seem incredibly realistic and lived in. When the filmmaker lets the film be about the girls, instead of their fucked up families or a critique on social media obsession or filled with the annoying visual flourishes that no one asked for, it’s actually well done and fairly compelling, revealing just how hard it is to be a 12-year-old girl in this society. The girls, again when not forced to advance the plot or play in to the overall message, are close to archetypes without being clichéd stereotypes and end up being characters that it would be interesting to watch as they spend a night together, being awful one second and then disturbingly vulnerable the next.

But unfortunately, those moments are few and far in between the larger swaths of film saddled with the shallow slasher plot that will appease neither art house types nor horror fans. #Horror is (allegedly) based on a true story of teen girls killed due to Internet fervor, but most of the film lacks any redeeming realistic components. It’s neither visually compelling nor inventive; the performances mostly range between two states — manic or dead to the world; and the overall moral condemnation feels forced, quaint, and terribly mishandled. There is actually the seed of a good film in #Horror, but the director couldn’t get off her own soapbox long enough to realize it, instead choosing to deliver a rote sermon in the form of a messily assembled film.

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