Ah, the internet. It’s both an endless gateway to all the knowledge we possess and a bizarre wasteland where the cult of personality reigns supreme. With the abundance of content creators, social influencers, and memes, we’ve come to a time where literally anyone can become famous.
We still have big-name celebrities on the silver screen, but there’s a growing market of YouTube stars, Instagram models, and TikTok… people. Online influencers have boomed in popularity as the next wave of names to know and follow. They’re gathering hordes of followers and popping up in reality shows, movies, and marketing campaigns.
It’s a bizarre concept, where normal people live carefully designed (and heavily produced) lives in the public eye. It’s become such a global (and financially viable) phenomenon that the horror genre has taken interest, creating some shocking situations where online influencers (and aspiring influencers) are forced to face reality. I’ve collected a list of 6 such films that teach micro-celebrities a thing or two about the fame game.
Starring Stranger Things’s Joe Keery as Kurt Kunkle, Spree follows a rideshare driver obsessed with increasing his follower count. He’s been operating his channel and handle — KurtsWorld96 — for years, and with only a measly number of subscribers to show for it. Kurt decides to take things to the next level with #TheLesson, his own personal guide to going viral (that stacks up a pretty impressive body count).
Keery is fantastic as Kurt; he seems perfectly pathetic. His desperation to become the next big thing is heartbreakingly evident. Keery and director Eugene Kotlyarenko studied online personalities like Logan Paul and Ninja as research into the caricature of influencers. Through every character, Spree takes time to examine our personal, almost pleading need to be acknowledged and liked and seen, and carefully shines a light on influencer culture and the strange phenomenon of having an online presence.
Spree is a brash satire — it waltzes in the murky waters of spree killers who find their fame online, and the dark celebrity that can be born from their terrible deeds. The film also stars SNL alum Sasheer Zamata as social influencer/comedian Jessie Adams, David Arquette as Kris Kunkle, Kurt’s skeezy DJ dad, and Joshua Ovalle (of Vine’s “Jared, 19” fame)
Where to watch: Hulu, Hoopla
Making Monsters (2019)
A social media prankster, Chris (Tim Loden), and his prime target/fiancée, Allison (Alana Elmer), are invited to a quiet weekend in the country to stay with an old friend. After a night of partying with their host’s partner, the couple wake up with no power, no heat, and a suspicion that something is terribly wrong. They find that they’re trapped in a deadly game on the dark web, where the stakes are life and death.
Though there’s a lot happening in Making Monsters (hallucinations, deception, masks), it goes to some dark places. It’s a deeply twisted “just desserts” for a man who’s made a lucrative living scaring the ever-loving hell out of his poor fiancée. Of course, she’s thrown under the bus in the process, but the main takeaway here is that the internet can be a pretty terrible lure for some awful people.
Where to watch: Available in Canada for rent on Google Play, Apple TV, and YouTube
After a tragedy takes the life of a fellow make-up influencer, Mia (Daisye Tutor) decides to cancel her livestream party plans to dogsit for her sister. While looking after canine Chico, she receives a mysterious and disturbing phone call and is pushed into a series of challenges that put the lives of her loved ones on the line. But is it real, or just a game at her expense?
Featuring real-life make-up and social media influencer Genelle Seldon, Shook really emphasizes the shallowness of our online persona and everyone’s personal “brand”. Mia’s friends — fellow influencers — are… kind of the worst. When she decides not to attend their livestream, they continually complain about the loss of her presence, lamenting that she has the most followers. Even Mia’s decision to dogsit is a calculated plan to appear “selfless”. Despite how sincere she may feel, it’s really all about her public image.
Director Jennifer Harrington uses some really clever techniques to bring what’s happening on screen — and in the back of Mia’s mind — to light. It’s pretty neat, but it also really does drive home the point that everything we do online is performative.
Where to watch: Shudder
The Cleansing Hour (2019)
“Father” Max (Ryan Guzman) hosts a wildly popular livestream where he performs an exorcism each episode. Max is a recognizable celebrity (there’s souls to be saved and tasteless merch to be sold) even though his exorcisms are (secretly) totally fake. When he’s about to perform his latest miracle, the possessed/actor never arrives, and the producer’s fiancée, Lane (Alix Angelis) reluctantly steps in to save the show. But as the livestream starts, it becomes evident that somehow Lane has actually become possessed, and it’s up to Max and producer Drew (Kyle Gallner) to stop the demon and save some souls.
The Cleansing Hour is a bit of a spin on the classic possession film, mixing in a modern, egocentric twist. The demon turns Max’s celebrity against him and uses his massive number of followers to its own advantage. It’s a neat way to take the topic of social influencer horror and throw a supernatural edge on it, while highlighting the effect that Max’s celebrity has had on his relationship with Drew, and the way he relates to others.
Where to watch: Shudder
Follow Me (aka No Escape, 2020)
Not to be confused with 2019 British film #Followme (a found footage film, also about a YouTuber), Follow Me follows a YouTuber named Cole who — for 10 years — has hosted #ERL (Escape Real Life), a channel in which he goes on all sorts of wild experiences and films them for the sake of the internet. This time, he’s headed to Moscow with his friends for a surprise adventure (a custom made, personalized escape room). As you can expect, things… do not go well.
Cole — ever the new-experience junkie — gets far more than he bargained for. It strips away all his performing pretense and turns him into a raw, bloody mess of a man. You can probably guess how the film will end (it’s predictable), but it does a good job of showing the shift in Cole’s demeanor when his feed is streaming.
Where to watch: Hulu
Alice (Madeline Brewer) is an ambitious camgirl with her sights set on livestream success. Her numbers soon jump and she finds herself quickly climbing the ranks, but while her channel continues to produce content, she’s not the one making it. Her exact likeness is pushing boundaries she’d never cross, and Alice is left to try and regain control of her online identity.
Of all the “influencer horror” out there, Cam is the most empathetic. Written by former camgirl Isa Mazzei, it takes the audience behind the screen to see the highs and lows of life as a camgirl. Behind the lashes and lace, there’s a real person who takes the time to get to know her clients, putting time and energy into building connections and a personal brand.
It’s a respectful contrast to the mindless self-indulgence that we see in other influencer-based horror films (as it should be, all things considered), but still shows how our life online is so much more carefully constructed, and how its overflow into real life can be rather jarring.
Where to watch: Netflix
Honorable Mention: Followed (2021)
To gain more subscribers, a controversial social media influencer stays at a cursed hotel to terrifying results.
Why just an honorable mention? Because it’s not out in Canada yet, so I haven’t seen it. Americans, you can catch this one on Amazon Prime.
Honorable Mention: New Year, New You (Into the Dark, 2018)
A group of old friends — including one popular Instagram influencer — gather for a girl’s night on New Years Eve. But as they begin to rehash old memories, many of the gripes they’ve been harboring manifest in murderous ways.
While — essentially — a self-contained feature-length film, it’s still technically a TV episode, so I’m just adding it as an honorable mention here.
Where to watch: Hulu
For more lists, check out 10 Hilarious Horror Parodies Made on a Microbudget