We have become a social media-obsessed culture. Everything we do, we post online and we never think of the dangers that wait for us afterward. Social media and technology have influenced the horror genre creating an entirely new subgenre- Screen Life Horror– where all the horror is set entirely on a computer screen.
Becoming the latest trend in horror, the screen life format doesn’t seem to be slowing down anything soon. With Shook, releasing on Shudder, February 18, I thought it’d be the perfect time to take a look back at 10 of the top screen life horror movies available now.
If there is one horror movie that really captures the screen life formula it would be 2014’s Unfriended.
Captured all on a webcam, Unfriended unfolds over a teenage girl’s computer screen as she and her friends are the targets of a vengeful spirit who is out for revenge after a viral video that depicted a shaming bullying incident that resulted in their friend’s suicide. On the anniversary of their friend’s suicide, they receive a mysterious message from someone claiming to be their dead friend that threatens to expose their darkest secrets.
A take on cyberbullying and the damages that come along with it, Unfriended is surprisingly scary and well crafted. Even though it’s not the first film to use the screen life format, it manages to use it effectively by generating some innovative and chilling sequences.
Unfriended is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Being told entirely through a computer screen, the thriller Searching has David Kim’s (John Cho) 16-year-old daughter suddenly vanishing without a trace. With little to no help from the police, David has to search for his daughter in the one place that no one has looked; her laptop, where her innermost secrets are kept, and hoping to find out what he can. He searches her computer’s history and traces her digital footprints and has to link up the clues before his daughter disappears forever.
Searching is a top-notch thriller with suburb storytelling that immediately hooks you in and has you questioning everything. Filled with twists and turns, Searching is an original and unique psychological thriller that will entice any horror fan.
Searching is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
The crime of cyberstalking is brought to the surface with director Branden Kramer’s film Ratter.
Ratter has Emma (Ashley Benson), a single girl living alone in New York City, that finds herself being watched by a stalker who has hacked all of her devices so that he can watch her anywhere, at any time. But watching isn’t enough and his stalking goes from virtual to physical.
Ratter is one of those films that just gets under your skin by showing just how fragile our sense of privacy really is. Ratter keeps a plot simple by focusing more on suspense and building up Emma’s sense of paranoia that leads up to an ending that will leave you rattled.
Ratter is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
The Den (2013)
Okay! Admit it, at one time or another you’ve been on a Chatroulette-esque site, usually stumbling on someone flossing their teeth or dancing around naked. But what if you stumbled upon a murder, what would you do? That’s exactly what happens in The Den, a webcam-based horror film that makes you think twice before going online.
Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia), a graduate student conducting a sociological experiment seeing how many strangers she can connect with and how many of those turn out to be a meaningful connection. One night, Elizabeth logs into a webcam site known as The Den, during her cam session she witnesses a brutal murder and becomes the killer’s next intended target.
The Den is a rough and tough slasher film that borderlines on being a snuff film as the film doesn’t shy away from being vicious and down-right brutal at times.
Ratter is now available to watch for Amazon Prime Video members.
Megan is Missing (2011)
We’re told at a young age not to talk to strangers, but what about strangers online? They can’t hurt us — right? In Megan is Missing we find out how dangerous the internet can truly be.
In the film, we meet Megan (Rachel Quinn) and her friend Amy (Amber Perkins), they’re best friends. They are 14-years-old and do everything together. Go to parties, talk on their phone, share secrets, post videos online and chat with guys online. But on January 14, 2007 Megan disappeared…forever.
First to capitalize the dangers of the internet, Director Michael Goi based the film on actual child abductions cases and features teenagers being kidnapped and tortured. The amount of torture and violence is extremely disturbing but at the same time all too real. The film will leave you wondering- What happened to Megan and could it happen to me?
Megan is Missing is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)
Breaking away from the traditional found footage formula that the franchise is known for, Paranormal Activity 4 shifted to from a hand-held camera to a screen life format.
Taking place five years after Paranormal Activity 2, Katie Featherston and her nephew Hunter are still missing after the events of part 2 and a new family begins experiencing the same type of paranormal activity.
Not as scary as the previous entries but still features some frightening scenes involving a demon materializing through the screen of an Xbox Kinect, a creepy neighbor kid and pulse-pounding ending that will take your breath away. But the screen life format couldn’t save the franchise as the franchise was starting to lose steam by this point.
Paranormal Activity 4 is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Unfriended: Dark Web (2018)
Down the dark rabbit hole, we go with Blumhouse’s Unfriended: Dark Web which digs deep into the sinister corners of the internet.
A solid follow-up to Unfriended, Dark Web follows Matias (Colin Woodell) a young man who finds a laptop at a coffee shop. After bringing it home, he goes online for a game night with his friends. The night of fun turns deadly when Matias discovers that his new laptop has access to the dark web, and shows his friends a mysterious folder that unlocks disturbing videos of people being tortured. The group of friends receive a message that they will die if they disconnect or call the police and that they are being watched by cybercriminals that will stop at nothing to cover their tracks.
Shifting from ghosts to hackers, Dark Web is grittier and nastier than its predecessor with graphic videos depicting women being tortured, kidnapped and held captive. Dark Web is a movie that makes you scared of browsing the internet because one wrong click and you can enter a world that you won’t get out of.
Unfriended: Dark Web is now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video.
Segment “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”
When you’re thinking of screen life horror films, your mind doesn’t instantly go to V/H/S as its more of a traditional found footage film. But there is a segment called The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, that fits perfectly into the sub-genre.
The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, is told entirely through a series of video chats as we follow Emily (Helen Rogers) as she notices an odd bump in her arm which reminds her of something strange that happened to her as a child. While at the same time, Emily also begins noticing strange occurrences happening in her home. Frequently Skyping with her boyfriend, we watch her get relentlessly terrorized by supernatural forces and watch as she slowly begins losing her mind.
Out of all the V/H/S segments, you never know exactly what is going on. Is it paranormal? Is it aliens? Or is it all in her imagination? But that’s exactly what the screen life format does, never reveals too much and when it does its all too terrifying. Still solidly creepy as this segment delivers on the shocks and the jump scares that will make you skin crawl.
V/H/S is available to watch for Amazon Prime Video members.
Open Windows (2014)
In 2014, we dived into the world of voyeurism, obsession, webcamming, and computer hacking with Nacho Vigalondo’s film Open Windows.
Told entirely through a laptop, Open Windows Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) wins a contest to meet his favorite actress, Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) -he’s her biggest fan. Jill refuses to have dinner with Nick, but he gets a second chance as he is given the opportunity to spy on Jill through her webcam… Nick is then pulled into a deadly game of cat and mouse.
This is the kind of film Hitchcock would make if he were still around today. Considered a modern-day Rear Window with plot twists, suspense and ending you won’t see coming. This high-tech thriller is not to be missed.
Open Windows is now available to watch for Amazon Prime Video members.
One of the best and maybe one of the only good things to come out of 2020 was Rob Savage’s Host. Filmed entirely during lockdown and clocking in under 60 minutes, Host is a fast-paced horror film that takes having a Zoom party to another level.
Taking place entirely during a Zoom call, six friends gather together to conduct a séance. During the séance, things go wrong and the girls contact a sinister presence. Strange occurrences begin to happen and the girls face the fact that they may not survive the night.
Anxiety producing, terrifying, unbelievably scary, what hasn’t been said about this movie? Rob Savage delivers an original and modern take on the screen-life format by incorporating them at a time when all we do have is Zoom calls.
Host is now available to watch on Shudder for subscribers.
Other genre favorites include Collingswood Story, Usernamer:666, Followed, and Cam.
Don’t forget to check out Shook premiering on Shudder on February 18.