For anyone who’s ever wondered what it would be like to be an “influencer”...stop it. Why? There are SO MANY better ways to make money. But for others, Deadcon, which just played at Cinepocalypse, shows why that kind of lifestyle is a killer reality…
…Directed by Caryn Waechter (The Sisterhood of Night) and written by Scotty Landes (Ma), the filmmakers throw us into the strange, weird world of social media, as we meet John (Aaron Hendry) in the 1980s, the inventor of “Link Rabbit”, which we get very few details on but appears to be the first ever conceptual design for group chatting. Flash forward to the present day after an eerie encounter with ghostly internet troll, Bobby, and we meet a group of vapid influencers, including Ashley (Lauren Elizabeth), Megan (Claudia Sulewski), and Dave (Keith Machekanyanga), attending a convention known as Tech-Con. When the group gets placed in/near the same hotel room where we first met John, things go to a hell far worse for these teens than living without their phones.
At its core, Deadcon begins as an interesting commentary on the influencer lifestyle, and how the idea of internet fame has warped youth. You would expect all of these characters to be horribly obnoxious, but that isn’t quite the case, particularly with Ashley, who wants nothing more than to quit the job that has little girls going nuts over her, but has never brought her genuine love. Waechter quickly lets us understand that Ashley, Megan and Dave are all people putting on a smile for the cameras, but with a real detachment from the reality they crave. These people are seen as objects by their fans, a symbol of everything they want to be, and that’s it. Ashley and the others aren’t allowed to focus on the real world, and we’re meeting them at a time where they have begun to realize this life has cost them any true friends or lovers they might’ve had. In that way, the characters of Deadcon are surprisingly relatable, and a sad representation of the likes-driven world we live in.
Unfortunately, whatever relatability Landes and Waechter build through the first act is lost quickly as the film goes on. The thing about Deadcon is, you really have to be okay with an entire cast of assholes that you ultimately won’t care about. And it’s not just the fact that these are the kinds of people with their phones surgically implanted into their palms. Megan is a cheater. Dave secretly tapes having sex with girls. And Ashley, well, I won’t spoil what happens to her, but let’s just say she’s not quite herself after the first act. It’s disappointing, because the first act of Deadcon smartly goes against the sort of archetypes we associate with these types of characters, and then lets it all crash down needlessly to a point where the horror has less affect, because no one is redeeming enough to root for. We end up feeling as detached from these people as they do real life, which is never good when you’re trying to sell an audience on your horror film. The worst part is, it doesn’t need to be this way, since both Dave and Megan’s questionable actions add nothing to the story that it couldn’t do without.
With a plot that plays out like 1408 for the techno-haunting age, the stylish horror of Deadcon earns a trending status, if only briefly. Waechter opts for more traditional scares, going for creepy subtlety like a rabbit-faced balloon slowly turning towards Bobby’s next victim, over outright jump-scares and gore. This also means that most of the kills are done off-screen, which will likely disappoint viewers, but for Deadcon, it works. Waechter and cinematographer Nicole Hirsch Whitaker employ a gothic horror vibe with images you’ll want to Snapchat to your horror-obsessed friends. Ghostly white light explodes through doorways. Children appear out of nowhere, surrounded by eerie mist. And the screen is splashed with beautiful reds and greens that make you feel like you’re inside a computer hard drive. I would’ve liked to see some more inventive moments for such a technologically driven film, but Deadcon still finds ways to have fun with its story, like using the most horrifying sound ever known to man whenever Bobby the ghost attacks: the internet dial-up tone! If you don’t know what that is, count yourself lucky.
In fact, part of the subtle pleasure of Deadcon is the comedy lurking just beneath the surface. We may not care about these people, and there isn’t much excitement to be had once they start getting picked off, but the filmmakers keep things entertaining with plenty of nods to the culture they’re mocking. Ricky (Lukas Gage), a walking, talking parody account, perfectly demonstrates the tongue-in-cheek humor of the film with scenes like live-streaming himself showering, or snapping a pic of his pecs and commenting, “damn, that’s going to get a lot of likes”. I would’ve preferred a more horrific use of the technology in the film, but there are few things more horrifying than imaging that this is what we as the human race have become.
Despite the laughs, Deadcon fails to keep our attention for long without interesting character stories or much of any lore behind the villainous spirit of Bobby to define the evil and its purpose. And as we all know, even a momentary slip in audience attention in the social media world can be killer. Deadcon is like that drunk tweet you send out in the middle of the night. Good for a laugh maybe, but a little too undercooked or well thought out to get the point across.
By Matt Konopka