There is a trend in independent horror to combine traditional genre elements with arthouse themes and style. It Follows and The Babadook are two notable examples of this trend. #Horror is a new and particularly aggressive example, pushing past the bounds of conventional arthouse-horror fare and into a crazy-quilt fusion of slasher movie elements, dark humor, arthouse drama and flashy experimental art. The results are strong on ambition but also tend to go in too many directions at once.
#Horror has a classic slasher flick setup: a clique of middle school girls gathers at the high-art mansion of the group’s leader, Sofia (Bridget McGarry), while her mother Alex (Chloe Sevigny) is out at therapy. The group includes Sam (Sadie Seelert), a new girl who is trying to get through her probation status with the group, and Cat (Haley Murphy), the meanest and most troubled of the group. When Cat is kicked out of the house for being too vicious to the others, a killer begins stalking the group from outside.
However, that synopsis, while accurate, radically simplifies what is actually happening in #Horror. Alex gets her own subplot, which includes a marriage on the rocks and her work as an art dealer, and there’s another subplot with Timothy Hutton as Cat’s inattentive dad, who goes nuts when he finds out the other girls have turned on his daughter. Also, the girls are all obsessed with smart phone apps, including a weird game that the killer uses to share its murderous conquests online – all of which are frequently depicted on screen.
That would be a lot for an experienced filmmaker to handle and first-time writer/director Tara Subkoff has trouble shaping all these interesting ideas into a coherent whole. The tone shifts frequently and abruptly from dark comedy to coming-of-age drama to horror so it’s hard to get a handle on. There’s no real character focus to the storyline and it’s also hard to get invested in the plights of the girls because all of them except Sam are constantly turning on each other and acting cruel.
Another problem, at least for horror fans, is that the horror aspect of the film often gets short shrift. There are some potential slasher-style mystery elements built into the story – Sam, Cat and Cat’s dad all become suspicious at key points – but the film never milks these beats for suspense. Finally, the frequent CG graphics used to display smart-phone usage, while nicely done, compete with the story instead of enhancing it.
Despite these issues, Subkoff shows promise as a director. She gets fairly natural performances from the teen cast members and juicy, comedic turns from the grown-ups: Hutton in particular is a standout and his big scene with Sevigny is the best in the film, even if it feels like it wandered in from a different movie. Elsewhere, she gets nice cameo bits from Natasha Lyonne and Taryn Manning. Subkoff also shows a nice sense of visual design, with the rural, artsily-decorated mansion making an excellent backdrop for the story, and her approach to the subject of bullying is heartfelt.
In short, #Horror is an experiment that is more interesting for its ambition rather than its success but it’s unusual enough to be interesting for adventurous cult movie types. The horror crowd should approach it with caution because it’s definitely not the straight slasher it’s being marketed as.
Blu-Ray Notes: This title recently made it debut on blu-ray via Scream Factory. The transfer is excellent, with rich colors and a vivid level of detail throughout. Lossless 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks are included: the 5.1 was used for this review and it’s a skillfully-mixed affair with subtle use of surround speakers. The one extra is a trailer.