REVIEW: Dread Central Presents...#Screamers
In the Wild West that was the early internet, memes spread quietly and rather anonymously. So when you got strange flash animations featuring Badgers, Snakes, and Mushrooms with a catchy beat we’re intrigued by the ingenuity and the anonymity. Who made these slices of genius? One in particular featured a calm shot of a distant car driving through a Pacific Northwest byway, the captions promising proof of a real life ghost. Since I was the type of middle schooler that never found a “proof of the paranormal” video he didn’t click on, I was eager. After 15 seconds, my nose poised in front of my screen, a shriek pierced through my speakers and the flashing image of Linda Blair from The Exorcist replaced the video. We scream, we laugh, and in an act of Schadenfreude we’d share the video so that others can have this fun experience too. But there’s not much to them. In essence it’s just an intriguing set up with an easy punchline. Which is also how can you describe the new POV horror film #Screamers.
Gigaler is a new internet company that is like YouTube, but it isn’t. The company is the brainchild of Tom (played by Tom Malloy, who also co-wrote and produced the film) and Chris (Chris Bannow). The company compiles metadata from its users so that they can better predict what the user will want to see before they even know it. When they receive a video that professes itself to be a real life snuff film that’s really just a “Screamer”, or a jump scare video where a shocking image screams at the camera, it gives the site the much needed boost it’s been needing. Though after finding out that the actress in the video may be a missing woman, and that they may be getting scammed by internet trolls, key members from the company decide to investigate what’s going on.
Found footage is a genre that is famously done poorly. Typically they are used by filmmakers when they may not have the funding to shoot it traditionally. Personally though, I find that “found footage” is a cinematic medium for the actor. These films are normalized cinema verite, always purporting itself to be true, or as if you are watching something real. And with that, #Screamers excels. I am biased because I am an East Coast writer and actor, but what films in New York have over other regions is the opportunity to cast from the wealth of dedicated stage actors that New York provides. The ensemble across the board are perfectly cast but Griffin Matthews and Chris Bannow specifically, both Broadway and Off-Broadway veterans, really anchor the film. They work the material as best as they can to, at the very least, make us want to know what happens to them. And in POV Horror, or Found Footage, winning that is half the battle.
This film also excels by giving us an extremely intriguing setup that keeps us engaged through the more dialogue heavy first two acts. But with an intriguing POV set up, we need some payoff. Unfortunately, instead, we are given what we didn’t know we signed up for: a screamer video. While we have some juicy things to chew on involving Jack The Ripper that personally excited me, like sand through a sifter the idea just dissipated and in its stead we are given a series of loud sounds and quick images of the #Screamer mask that you’ve no doubt seen around the internet. Compounded with a missed opportunity to discuss data privacy, something they lightly bounce off of which is now prescient with the recent scandals surrounding Cambridge Analytica and Facebook (Editors Note: The film was made in 2016 before these scandals broke so this isn't something to fault the film, just unfortunate timing that's impossible to ignore), the film was so close to a truly fun and unique POV horror but just barely misses the ring.
There’s a lot of interesting bits to mine out of this movie and I have no doubt that whatever Director/CoWriter Dean Matthew Ronalds brings us next will learn from the mistakes of this work, if he plays in the Horror Genre again. The ride we take to the clumsy third act is a fun one, but one that left me ultimately ambivalent. But that doesn’t mean you will be. With the Dread Central Presents slate that Rob Galluzzo has put together, a film like this has its place. It's not your atypical party horror film, but it could easily captivate younger members of the horror community the way that Cannon Films, Charlie Bands Full Moon Entertainment, and even more recently the After Dark Film Festival has done for the past 30 years for horror. And with frame of mind, #Screamers more than deserves your time.