In an era where anyone can make and distribute their own works through the power of digital connection, where short indie horror works such as The Mandela Catalogue (2021) and The Backrooms (2021) are able to capture the attention of a global audience (including Hollywood producers), there exists a growing fascination with the eerie potential of the digital realm. But just as internet communities have been captivated by the horror movie, the movies themselves have tried to harness the medium of cyberspace to create exciting premises. From the ominous glow of computer screens to the uncanny world of the dark web, filmmakers have started to bring a fresh and haunting perspective to the horror genre by harnessing the all-to-familiar aesthetics of the internet. In the lead-up to ‘What Hides in Your Mind?’, I would like to recommend six cyber-inspired feature films that are sure to give audiences a good fright!
One of the most infamous examples of ‘screenlife’ horror, Unfriended became a viral hit on release, inspiring countless memes and even earning itself a sequel with 2018’s Unfriended: Dark Web. The story unfolds entirely within the confines of the laptop screen of our teen protagonist as she gossips with her unlikeable “friends” on Skype. Things begin to turn sinister as we learn of a series of cyberbullying incidents that led to a girl’s suicide exactly one year earlier, escalating further when an unknown member joins the call and begins to play games with deadly consequences. Unfriended employs its gimmick to place us in the POV of a participant, delivering thrills whilst acting as a warning tale of the dangers of cyberbullying and the consequences of a digital footprint. It is by no means a perfect film, relying on many cliches and frustrating character decisions, but was undoubtedly important in bringing this horror sub-genre to mainstream attention. It offers a unique take on the classic supernatural movie and answers the question of what could happen if a demonic entity was able to enter our modern safe space: the internet.
As mentioned in the last entry, Unfriended helped to popularize a trend in ‘screenlife’ films which swap out traditional filmmaking methods for a storytelling device driven by the combination of text, audio, photos and videos available within the boundaries of the screen. 2020’s Host is a British independent film that refines this gimmick as it depicts a Zoom call in which a séance goes incredibly wrong. Created during the times of Covid-19 filming restrictions, the film creatively overcomes this, playing on our familiarity of the setting to construct an immersive and tense atmosphere. It even manages to crack a few relatable jokes in its tight 65-minute runtime. Host is filled with jumpscares and intense ghostly encounters which helps make it a memorable addition to the found-footage genre.
We use our phones for everything: information, communication, and convenience. Our phones see everything we do so many of us worry about what could happen if this information gets into the wrong hands. Unlocked is a South-Korean thriller that plays on the paranoia of being watched after a young woman’s phone is tampered with by a serial stalker.
Filled with twists and turns, this film is sure to have you hooked to your screen as you witness the leading lady try to solve her mystery. Will her reliance on communication technology be her downfall?
We’re All Going to the World’s Fair (2021)
Throughout the lifespan of the world wide web, challenges or ARGs (Alternate Reality Games) have always existed, waiting to be found by curious and thrill-seeking users. Most of these are fun and innocent however a more sinister and dangerous few lurk beneath the surface. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair trades intense scares for a haunting atmosphere and is helmed by a powerful performance from Anna Cobb as Casey, a teenager who documents her experience with the online ‘World’s Fair’ challenge. As Casey participates in the game, strange and unsettling events start to occur. The narrative explores themes of identity, isolation, and the impact of internet culture on young individuals. As Casey’s experiences in the online world become increasingly surreal, the film delves into the psychological and emotional effects of virtual reality and the consequences of seeking connection and validation in the digital realm. Equal parts internet-horror and coming-of-age movie, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair’s unique style provides a more thought-provoking and eerie watch than some of the other films on this list and will strike a chord with any viewer that has ever felt lonely in the abyss of cyberspace.
With their boom in popularity, especially over the pandemic lockdowns, YouTuber and livestreamer culture has become an essential part of the online zeitgeist. Because of this, it felt almost inevitable that someone would employ this as a unique selling point for a horror feature. Spree follows the story of Kurt Kunkle, a rideshare driver who becomes obsessed with achieving internet fame and social media success. Kurt devises a plan to live-stream a killing spree using his car, equipped with cameras, and murders unsuspecting passengers in a bid to gain online notoriety. The character is played in an over-the-top manner by Joe Keery who makes this a fun watch, despite its silly and often cringe-worthy premise. The movie uses its very 2020 setting to explore themes of social media obsession, the quest for viral fame, and the blurred boundaries between online and real-world personas. As Kurt’s homicidal spree unfolds, the film satirises the lengths that some individuals may go to for virtual ‘clout’. Spree is a darkly comedic, satirical take on the dangers of the internet age and the consequences of a society driven by the desire for online notoriety.
With the instant validation that comes from the views, likes and followers offered to us on the web, it is easy to become obsessed with chasing online fame. But what would happen if this all got taken from you by a doppelganger? Cam offers a glimpse into the illusive world of cam girls as we watch Alice struggle to regain control of her online identity and uncover the truth behind her double. The film tackles themes of autonomy, self, and the consequences of living in a digital world. It also brings awareness to the psychological toll of online sex work and the perils of obsessing over numbers. The blurring of lines between reality and the virtual world in Cam will undoubtedly leave its viewers feeling uncomfortable.