A new sub-genre of horror has recently materialised in the form of internet-based plots and scares. Horror films have now made the likes of Facebook and Skype their new home.
But, has the growth of these social media horrors proved to be an innovation or is it something that just doesn’t work?
Then and now
Back in the day, the likes of Hammer House of Horror were the norm. As the eighties came along, we had movies like The Evil Dead (1981), The Fly (1986), Hell Raiser (1987) and Friday the 13th (1980). Then in the nineties, films like Scream (1996), Interview with the Vampire (1994) and Ring (1998) were the most popular.
Arriving into the new millennium, we saw more to do with supernatural elements rather than the man behind the mask concept. Horror has changed and developed over time, and now we seem to be at the stage where social media horror is becoming the latest development in the genre.
A chilling example
Let’s use a current example. Friend Request (2016), which centres on a murder hit-list idea, taking inspiration from films such as Final Destination (2000) – following the suicide of a shy, inhibited outcast after being rejected by a popular girl named Laura.
Laura becomes “unfriended” as a number of her friends and loved ones are mysteriously murdered and footage of their deaths are uploaded to her profile. Naturally, she begins to lose Facebook friends by the day.
This is a decent plot for a horror storyline, but the narrative underneath it considers and preaches the lesson of how seriously some of today’s younger generation take social media and the impact the service can have.
These films are innovative in what they offer up in social commentary.
They are speaking to what’s culturally relevant. In that sense, they are creating something new. Whether the frivolous content of the scripts or the often one-dimensional characters overshadow the concept is another question.
What doesn’t work are the tropes and clichés. To truly add a touch of innovation they need to abandon typical formats and cheap scares. One thing that stands out with these types of horror films is that the narrative is clear. It stays grounded in ‘reality’ and therefore the misfortune is more disturbing instead of just scary.
Take, for example, a movie like Megan is Missing (2011), which focuses on an MSN style chatroom – a very real concept. Likewise, a film like Girlhouse (2014), where cam-girls are terrorized by a jilted admirer who hacks their IP address, works because the fear is based on a real life premise. Being located by a stranger through your laptop from what you feel is the safety of your internet browser. Likewise, Cyberbully (2011) starring Maisie Williams also works in a similar way.
All the while, the twists each film has on the horror genre differ greatly from film to film.
You could say that a film like Friend Request (2016) is akin to the beloved over-use of found footage film – all being an ode to predecessors like The Blair Witch Project (1999) – aren’t directors doing the same thing now as they did in that period of new technology?
I feel they are reflecting back to audiences the nature of our often reckless approach to safety and blindfold mentality when it comes to over-sharing and ‘befriending’ people we feel aren’t tangible because they exist on the internet.
Like The Blair Witch Project and its found-footage successors, the scary idea from these films are that things which are chilling and unknown could be captured and locked in a time vault forever through this new technology. Whether that be video-camera then or chat rooms and Facebook now, this is a new genre of horror.
What do you think of social media horror films? Let us know in the comments below!