Monday, August 12, 2019

Sticks & Stones Can Break Your Bones But Comments Are Forever

Let the record show that I have absolutely no problem with both studios and independent filmmakers making social media-based horror movies. Whether the end product is a pile of goof or actual commentary, the genre's earnest attempts at being current never cease to be adorable.

Quick Plot: We open on a teenager with streaked makeup, her phone ominously drowning in a fishbowl as she weepingly hammers out "I'm sorry" on loop on a broken laptop

Across town, a group of rowdy high schoolers have a drunken house party. New girl Kristen is eager to fit in, taking shots with queen bee Nicole and joining her as she cyberbullies a former classmate named Morgan with her phone pal Amber. Kristen feels bad, but worse when she discovers some sort of Facebook bug won't let her delete the comments. 

That's nothing compared to Amber, who, you might have guessed, is our frazzled typist from the opening, and now, dearly deceased after jumping off her roof. Nicole begins to experience her own ominous Morgan-inspired visions, while Kristen tries to apologize online. Rather than accept, Morgan sends Kristen a video of her very own doppleganger screaming with a SnapChat filter.

Also, Morgan has been dead for months.

Directed by Tim Shechmeister from a script he cowrote with his brother Matt, Can't Take It Back doesn't have much to say that we haven't heard from Friend Request, Unfriended, and the rest of the Facebook-induced horror canon of recent years. Cyberbullying is bad, yet as is the case for almost any horror genre, the punishment will be vastly worse than the crime.

The cast does a decent job for what it's working with. Lead Ana Coto is a solid presence, while Lexi Atkins makes an entertaining mean girl who sells her role reversal better than you'd expect in a film of this budget. There's also a "youtube star" in the cast, which seems appropriate (even if the fact that I knew nothing about him but was able to guess his identity tells you everything you need to know about his performance). 

It's almost a shame that Shechmeister doesn't lean harder in on his meta casting, as it might have given Can't Take It Back a little more memorability. This is the kind of throwaway genre film that I'll have a hard time remembering in a few weeks, which, in a world of memes and viral videos, could be meta in itself.

High Points
While there's nothing revolutionary in the scares department, Shechmeister does a decent job of staging some moments of violence, particularly in how Nicole's manic trauma unfolds

Low Points
There's just nothing new here, which can't help but feel limiting

Lessons Learned
One can never have too many candles or flashlights on hand to fight off an evil bullied spirit, even if the lights are working just fine

Being a dick to the goth kids will come back to bite you

"I'd rather see Hunger Games 1000" is the ultimate putdown to Generation Z

Can't Take It Back does nothing new, and doesn't do what it does with great skill, but it's an entertaining enough block of 90 minutes. It's streaming on Shudder, so the next time you're looking for a social media slasher, it's something.

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