Monday, November 7, 2022

Hashtag Horror(?)


By this point in the world and internet, I'm guessing something like billions of words have been written trying to answer the genre-old question of what actually defines horror. It pops up in fury every time A24 puts out a new release or a Silence of the Lambs retrospective makes the rounds. 

Personally, I don't particularly care. The "thriller-ing" of Silence of the Lambs feels insulting, sure, and "elevated horror" is a phrase I'd like to see float in an attic and decapitate itself with a rusty piano wire. To quote the old "I know it when I see it" judicial argument about pornography, that's still the easiest barometer. Do you hold your breath at Clarice's frantic Buffalo Bill basement hunt? Then the film was meant to scare you. I call it horror, many - especially film snobs - do not. I'm not going to lose any sleep or money over it.

I bring up such questions because today's film is an interesting outlier in Shudder's offerings. Shudder is a horror service, exclusively devoted to the genre but wide in its scope in terms of reach (both chronologically and geographically). Sarah Pirozek's #Like has a clear, non-disputable horror premise but had this shown up on Netflix, I doubt anyone would throw it in that virtual bin. And yet, the more I think about its subject matter and how it follows a character facing something truly ugly, the more I'm circling around on the very argument I didn't want to start. 

Horror comes in many forms. Maybe this is just a new one. 

Quick Plot: Rosie is a high school student having a hard time recovering from the loss of her younger sister Amelia. While she manages to get through her junior year on a daily basis, the bulk of Rosie's energy is directed at finding the mysterious man behind the web avatar responsible for Amelia's death. 

Her timing is kismet: through some good sleuthing and some even better luck, Rosie identifies him just as her mom leaves town for a work trip. She zeroes in on Andrew, a local contractor who proves all too easy to lure down her sound-proof bomb shelter. A single spiked beer and pair of handcuffs later and Rosie soon realizes she may be in over her underage head. 

To say more about #Like would be unfair, but one thing must be known before you dive in: this is not exactly a horror movie in the traditional sense. On one hand, Shudder seems like an odd fit for what's really more a good, challenging drama about grief on a Gen-Z scale. On the other, there's a successful trojan horse quality about teasing us with a salacious Hard Candy-esque premise only to turn it into something very human. 

#Like is the narrative debut of writer/director Sarah Pirozek (previously of documentary work) and on that level, it's an incredibly impressive feat. She brings out natural, complicated performances from her cast, and seems to use the filmmaking tics of a thriller to carefully build a world before forcing us to see it isn't quite what we thought. 

This is not an easy movie, nor is it the most fun you'll have sitting back on Shudder. But it's incredibly skillful and brings a lot of complicated questions to its audience, something few films are so eager to try. I don't know how satisfying #Like will be for many audiences (particularly if you say, "oh! something new on Shudder!") but it's impressive, thought-provoking work.

High Points
Sarah Rich has a huge job to do in making Rosie both very smart and very foolish, and the young actress does genuinely incredible work at playing a girl using confidence to cover deeply fragile insecurities

Low Points
I don't want to spoil a film I know has not been widely seen, so I'll just throw out a note to say I'm not sure a certain male character turn was needed, as the film may have been more powerful with even bigger ambiguity

Lessons Learned (the Gen-Z Edition)
Netflix and chill is considered the height of vanilla

"Program and shit" is a great line to have on your resume

The term "unisex" is most closely associated to '70s sitcoms

I wouldn't recommend #Like to someone looking for a revenge thriller or horror movie in general, but if you're in more of a mood for some moral mystery, this is absolutely worth a speedy under 90 minute watch. Give it a go and share your thoughts. I'm curious to hear. 

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