Based on actual events, writer-director Tara Subkoff’s heavily stylized thriller sees a group of 12 year old girls struggle with their social media game addiction and cyberbullying during a sleepover. Emotions run rampant and the night descends into chaos. It doesn’t help that there’s a killer lurking in the snowy woods outside the glass mansion in which the girls are staying.
Subkoff, marking her horror and directorial debut here, utilizes her fashion designing expertise with #Horror’s visual design. The rigid, contemporary glass mansion set in the middle of snowy banks and barren trees bring stark contrast to the poppy, colorful flashes of the social media game the girls play. The Candy Crush Saga-like animated graphics pop up often to assault your senses as they take over the screen. The mansion itself is more akin to a modern art museum than a home, and Subkoff plays up the art pieces with surreal flair. Undulating egg yolks, golden tires, and creepy translucent masks are some of the more notable art pieces encountered.
The house is owned by the Cox family; detached mother Alex (Chloe Sevigny), daughter Sophia, and a father (Balthazar Getty) who only appears long enough to get his throat slit along with his mistress in the opening scene. His wife assumes he’s off enjoying his affair and is none the wiser. Much of the running time is spent with Sophia and her five friends, all very privileged save for scholarship riding Sam, the oddball of the group. They spend much of the running time alternating between taking selfies and delivering acidic barbs, their smartphones rarely leaving their hands. The girls bully each other just as much over social media as they do in person, and the level of cattiness is horrific in itself. These girls are vindictive and spoiled, neither of which makes them relatable or worth rooting for. It’s only when they finally put those phones away do we get a glimmer of humanity; when these girls learn to relate to each other with vulnerability we’re reminded they’re just children.
This goes on for far too long, though. Save for the opening murder, we spend over an hour of running time watching the girls tear each other down. There are only minor hints of something sinister watching them from the woods, and when the killer does strike it’s often too frenetically shot. Subkoff spends so long on delivering her message that the horror is almost forgotten entirely. What little horror elements exist are derivative.
Also problematic is that Subkoff includes too many side plots and it muddies up the narrative. Cat never recovered from her mother’s death and is emotionally troubled as a result. Cat’s father, played by Timothy Hutton, demonstrates that the apple may not fall far from the tree when he seems far more unstable than she. Then there’s Sam, who suffers hallucinations and finds herself victim, yet again, of bullying. There are strong hints of mental health problems, though the sole purpose is to either misdirect or exemplify cause and effect. The lack of full exploration of these issues confuses rather than enhances the purpose.
Subkoff does illustrate the poignancy of how social media shapes our youth, and more importantly how parents are unable to cope. The parents in this film are so wrapped up in their own phones that they don’t see what’s going on right in front of them. That they’re not as technologically savvy as their children furthers the divide. On a narrative level, Subkoff succeeds with building the characters in such a way as to make her point. As a horror film it fails. It’s a slow burn with no satisfying payoff, and you’ll likely forget you’re even watching horror. The technology barrier between the girls makes them unable to empathize or relate to each other, and Subkoff created that same barrier between the audience and the film’s characters with her heavily stylized imagery and spoiled characters.
#Horror will be available on VOD this Friday, November 20.
Tara Subkoff’s directorial debut warns the effects of cyberbullying and the dehumanizing effect of technology, but forgets to add the horror.