The Art of the Social Media Thriller; Narcissism, Paranoia and Tools for Good or Ill

3. Cam (2018)

One of the most original cyber-horrors for years follows an adult chatroom model in a battle of wills with a sinister online doppelganger. This is identity theft with a supernatural twist all through the distorting prism of technology. Alice/Lola (Madeline Brewer) puts everything into how she appears online, and when this is taken away from her she is left an empty shell.

Technology is a corrupting influence here. In a lesser film Lola and her target audience would be demonised, branded as degenerates, but instead they’re presented as tragic victims of the allure of technology and what it allows us to do in private. Lola’s superfan “Tinker” (Patch Darragh) is presented as just as much of a victim as the subject of his obsession; he, fellow chatroom frequenters and the models they interact with are all beguiled and controlled by the technology they use on a daily basis.

When you construct a version of yourself that a loyal group of admirers worship, a version of yourself that you put everything into and that is suddenly taken away from you; what’s left? Can our online activities rob us of our souls? It’s almost like these models are vampires, more literally sapping life and being sapped of life as the plot progresses, all thanks to the corrupting power of the internet, what it can offer and what it can support. There’s a scene where Alice becomes locked out of her account and therefore separated from such a key part of herself, and it’s easily the scariest scene in the film because we all know how that feels; as sad as it sounds, if you spend a lot of your life online, that life is gone when your access is revoked. It leaves a hole.

4. Assassination Nation (2018)

This anarchic thriller is terrifyingly plausible. What if all of a small town’s darkest secrets made their way online and the most likely suspects were a quartet of tech-savvy mean girls? How would said town react? By demanding a witch hunt of course.,, in a town called Salem.

In a world that’s always online, where so much is shared (most of which probably shouldn’t be), there is a sense of jeopardy to daily life that didn’t apply to previous generations. Unless you use the internet merely to extend the cave you live in and never post anything, we’re all putting ourselves at risk on a daily basis and it would only take one big leak to ruin a whole lot of lives. And ruin a lot of lives the town-wide data hack does, including those of the supposed culprits Lily (Odessa Young), Em (Abra), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Bex (Hari Nef).

The seemingly benign outlet that is social media is turned into a weapon and a trigger for anarchy. Comparisons have been made to The Purge for the film’s finale, but there’s no enjoyable catharsis here, few action-horror clichés; it’s nastier, more down-to-earth and far more disturbing. It’s a reflection of the depraved desire of a certain kind of person to punish millennials for “getting” social media, for being young and malleable enough to adapt to a changing world, for mocking others’ technological ignorance. Data is a barrier to understanding, widening the gap between generations, and in the wrong hands it’s the deadliest of weapons.

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