CINEPOCALYPSE 2019: DEADCON is D.O.A.

As a nearly 40 year-old man, I’m likely not the target audience for Deadcon. That said, I’m really not sure who is. It doesn’t really lean too strongly into the social media influencer aspect of the story, which is ostensibly the whole selling point of Scotty Landes’ script:

Deadcon tackles isolation in the age of social media and follows real-life YouTubers Lauren Elizabeth and Claudia Sulewski as they face vengeful ghosts even more horrifying than their devoted fans.”

Director Caryn Waechter’s film ends up being a found footage movie mixed with a haunted house movie set in a hotel. The trappings might be technological, but there’s little going on here, which even the most casual of horror fans has likely seen a half-dozen times before. The idea of a dead kid possessing a social network in order to find friends is a great concept — if we knew how the kid came to be there in the hotel in the first place and had a reason to care.

Despite its plot holes and the absurd premise which underlies it, another film, 2014’s Unfriended, uses the online world far more effectively and horrifically; are we really doing close-ups of phone screens to show texts when Sherlock already introduced us to the world of popping things up on screen nearly a decade ago? C’mon, now. Try harder.

The use of actual YouTube stars is a nice conceit, and one which could’ve worked, but because the movie never takes advantage of the social media thing which is its entire reason for being, they just come across as very self-assured young folks who aren’t particularly great actors. Additionally, if this were a plot to get more eyes on Deadcon via the social media of its stars, I dug through both Elizabeth and Sulewski’s Instagram accounts, going back a year plus, and didn’t find a single mention of the movie at all. When your stars aren’t promoting the flick, that’s a bad sign.

Every aspect of Deadcon seems like it was lifted from another movie: a floating balloon from IT, mirror writing from The Shining, a whistled refrain from M, random kids running around from every early Guillermo del Toro flick. Oh, and while I don’t know if it was meant to eventually lead to something (it doesn’t!), or if the budget couldn’t allow for them to add more kids (likely), every scene of random kids running around, knocking on doors to find their favorite stars, features the same four kids every time.

Granted, those kids do give the film its one legitimately scary moment: as Elizabeth’s character, Ashley, tries to decompress in an elevator, she’s forced to fake a phone conversation, while in the background, three kids silently lift their phones to surreptitiously film her. It’s creepy as anything, but unfortunately, Deadcon never leans into the social media aspect as the truly horrific element.

Grousing about lack of kills seems to be a superficial complaint, but given that Deadcon never manages to achieve an effective level of fear, hoping for some deaths doesn’t seem like too high a bar to clear. However, Deadcon botches that aspect as well. While the idea of someone having a smart phone shoved down their throat and it being discovered when it rings and the screen is visible through their skin seems interesting, you’re thinking of the jail breakout scene in The Dark Knight, too, aren’t you?

Finally, as far as the story goes, I’m not particularly down with the whole “I filmed us boning without your knowledge and expressly against your consent, but it’s okay, because it reveals a major plot point” aspect of things. Dave (Keith Machekanyanga) hides a GoPro inside a rocks glass to video himself and Megan having sex. While it reveals to him that there’s this creepy little dude watching them in the background, that seems to be used as justification for what he did, as well as justifying Megan’s inevitable demise.

There’s a lot which could’ve been done with this concept, but Deadcon is pretty much dead on arrival.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
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