Quick synopsis: Alone in her bedroom, Casey (Anna Cobb) takes part in an online horror challenge, one which affects her sanity in this coming-of-age horror from Jane Schoenbrun.
This is weird. I’m still not entirely sure if I liked it or not. I am very glad I’ve seen it, and it is one that I would recommend, but my personal thoughts on it are still going through my head. I’ll admit, I tend to avoid a lot of films like this because they all run together in my mind. The “teen challenge horror” has seen a resurgence lately, and a lot of them have been cheap and kind of shit. I was ready to put this on the file of “nah, won’t bother watching” alongside Slenderman (and where Truth Or Dare should have been). I then realised Anna Cobb was in it. I thought she was the best part of How To Deter A Robber last year so I thought would be interesting. She seemed really different in this though, there was none of the Anna Kendrick-ness to her this time round, which surprised me. It was like she was a completely different person. There’s a reason for that, this was Anna Cobb, that was Abbi Cobb, a completely different actress. I feel that that paragraph may be a disservice to Anna as she is really good in this. She has incredibly expressive eyes. This is her feature debut, and she nails it. I’m really looking forward to what she does next. She’s one of the best things about this film. Although that’s easy to say, as she’s one of the only things about this film. It’s incredibly minimalist, most of the film is her on her own, talking to a camera. I don’t recall a moment of her sharing the screen with anybody at any time. There are moments where she’s talking to someone offscreen, or via webchat, but most of it is just her. Weirdly, it doesn’t end with her. The ending is a guy talking, a guy who is possibly being an unreliable narrator. The film is at its weakest when it’s not on Casey, so it’s frustrating when the film closes not on a different character. The closing is just too long and too much nothing. Much like the opening.
The opening could, and should have been shorter, it’s about 8 minutes of her sitting in front of the camera doing the challenge (saying a phrase three times, smearing blood on the computer, then sitting in front of strobe lights). Could have been done in about 3 minutes and achieved the same. The film itself is only 85 minutes, so that’s almost a 10th of the film doing nothing. It also sets up the film as being something different from what it is, since the whole intro is from the POV of her webcam, it makes you think the whole film will be like that, certainly the minimalist cast would lead you to believe that. It’s not, it mostly is, but the moments where it’s not that don’t add to it. It is kind of a wasted opportunity, the nature of the story would lend itself to her being viewed on a camera or computer screen at all times. Cobb is such a good performer, and has such brilliant facial expressions that it kind of feels like a waste when the film has moments of scenery with her talking over them. As beautiful as the scenes look, you want to see her. This film is at its best when it doesn’t feel like a film. When it feels like home recordings that you’re weirdly intruding on. If the film was entirely recordings from a camera, then the ending of the male character would have a bigger impact. It would put us in his shoes as a voyeur, watching this character on a screen and becoming obsessed with her.
It’s a shame as the writing and directing has potential. It’s strangely hypnotic. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a lava lamp. You don’t watch and think about character and plot, you’re just entranced by everything and lose track of time while observing. The whole thing feels very personal, but also like it should have been a short. It shows promise, it shows potential, but it also shows limitations and inexperience. I expect both Cobb and Schoenbrun (the writer/director) to do great things in the future. Schoenbrun has a great sense of how to make things creepy. But only in short bursts, it struggles to keep that momentum throughout. The scenes themselves are super strange and well done; one in particular where someone seems to be digging into their own arm and pulling out a reel of tickets. It’s moments like that which make you wonder about what the film could have been. Personally, I think this should have been a series of shorts. So we get to see the effects the game has on different people. Would allow the film to maintain momentum and showcase what Shoenbrun is best at: weird shit.
So yeah, see this. Turn the lights off, shut the curtains, turn your phone off, and just be enraptured by what you’re watching. It’s not for everybody, but you won’t see anything else like this. For some reason, it reminded me of the indie game Gone Home (which if you haven’t played, I highly recommend), no idea why. It also has an absolute killer soundtrack which I’ve already purchased.