#Horror, the directorial debut of fashion designer Tara Subkoff, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art on November 18, 2015. Speaking with her friend’s daughter about cyber bullying inspired Subkoff to create the film, which is “based on true events.” The young girl said she chose to go to boarding school in England after being bullied, but the tormenting followed her there. It is a terrifying concept that you can’t hide or go home from the Internet; it’s everywhere and readily accessible. That premise in itself is haunting, but what Subkoff does with this film almost pokes fun at a real life terror for young girls.
Shot quickly over an 18-day period, the film opens with a fresh kill. Harry Cox (Balthazar Getty) is cheating on his wife Alex (Chloë Sevigny) and a murderer comes to his car and slashes his throat right at the close of a steamy adultery session (yes, sex). Then, abrupt opening credits roll in Candy Crush and Kim Kardashian iPhone app fonts leading us to believe technology has a lot to do with this slasher film.
We learn that Sofia Cox (Bridget McGarry) is throwing a slumber party in her gigantic Connecticut mansion and inviting other girls of the suburban commonwealth: Cat (Haley Murphy), Francesca (Mina Sundwall), Georgie (Emma Adler), Ava (Blue Lindeberg), and less fortunate Sam (Sadie Seelert), our antihero. We follow the side stories of Sam and Cat on their way to Sofia’s (the other girls are already present) and get to know their background a little better. Sam is emotionally disturbed, has been subject to bullying before, and has even changed schools (that’s the only part I found based on a true event). While going over to Sofia’s, she makes her mom (Natasha Lyonne) stop far away so the girls don’t see their clunker car. Cat is also extremely disturbed/ borderline nutcase and has been in trouble for bullying at school. Her father Dr. White (Timothy Hutton) is a plastic surgeon who seems to pay more attention to his phone than disciplining his daughter. Nevertheless, she still gets to go to Sophia’s party, despite being in trouble. What ensues is a night full of death and selfies.
The cinematography is pleasing and exhibits clean shots; I like the contrast of the snow outside with Sofia’s great glass house. The 12-year-old girls get into a lot more than I did when I was that age like smoking e-cigs and drinking mom’s vodka. Also, hanging out in a glass mansion (reminiscent of Goodnight Mommy) full of contemporary art is not something very relatable to the majority of the population that needs the message Subkoff is trying to relay. The art is cool, mostly from Subkoff’s husband Urs Fischer and also from friends Rob Pruitt and Dan Colen, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves. Even the musical score by EMA (Erika M. Anderson) hosts mismatched songs anywhere from opera to EDM. While a great concept, who is this message intended to reach?
The film was screened out of competition at Cannes Film Festival, which Tara Subkoff decided not to attend. Instead, she organized an anti-bullying protest outside with close to 100 French teenagers (with “dis le moi en face!” signs and masks). IFC Midnight acquired distribution rights and now, at the time of this writing, you can see the film on Netflix, which is probably where it should have appeared first. I can’t imagine Cannes and MoMA were the best platforms for getting the anti-bullying word out. The film has a lot of style and interesting elements that I would have loved to see at work in a different story.
The killer in the woods preying on schoolgirls left home alone is an all-too-familiar plot supplemented with ridiculous dialogue and less-than-mediocre performances. It’s a parody of the way we desensitize ourselves to horrific images online. It can be less real and require much less empathy or compassion if visible on a screen rather than in real life. This however, is a catch-22. There is so much more information readily available to us (great, right?), but having that capacity allows us to choose where to exert feelings and emotion. It makes sense that Subkoff would want to tackle this subject even if she herself seems disconnected.
#Horror has received mixed reviews from a small number of critics and seems to be one of those films no one is sure what to do with. All in all, the film has a noble concept with terrible execution. Tara Subkoff seems disconnected to the youth of these days. There is no true link to Instagram in the film, even though the # is used (albeit incorrectly on both ends of a word: #diebitches#). Also, when a picture is posted, the screen says, “submitted” which just doesn’t work in this context. By getting fundamental popular culture wrong, it can easily be dismissed, especially by its potential target audience. I would like to see more from Tara Subkoff in the future, as I’m positive she can pull together a really beautiful and captivating idea on the second go-round.
The point Subkoff is trying to convey is muddled by the different elements at play in #Horror. The precedence originated in a well-thought call to action and again was executed with true style. But Subkoff chose characters who are all mean little rich girls with no end to their disturbances. There is such a host of issues here including self-mutilation, binging and purging and it’s just so much that all those problems can’t possibly exist in one gaggle of girls. Even the parents are all infested with issues of drug abuse, cheating, and lying so much so that parents watching in the audience can easily dismiss the film by saying, “My kid and her friends aren’t like that; I’m not like that.” It’s so dramatized it’s unreliable and unintentionally hokey.