CW: violence, assault, homophobia, transphobia
Ah, youth. Dishing on the latest gossip, lounging by the pool, receiving menacing texts threatening to doxx you. There’s a good reason social media has become an increasingly popular subject for horror films: it’s fucking terrifying. And in this week’s film, it has the power to send a homicidal mob after you IRL.
Following a hacker’s leak of personal messages and information, the residents of an entire town turn against 4 teen girls who seem to be at the center of it all.
Let’s revisit a familiar chapter in US history: the time the town of Salem lost its fucking mind. No, not that time. This time, it’s all a case of leaked personal messages and the good old-fashioned scramble to cover one’s own ass.
To rewind a tiny bit to the before times, teen Lily is part of a close-knit group of friends: Bex, Sarah, and Em. Catching up with her girl gang, Lily learns that Bex has been sexting with Diamond, a gorgeous jock who dares not acknowledge his affection in public. Meanwhile, Lily continues to date her first “serious” boyfriend, Mark, while secretly sexting a man only known as Daddy. Sounds like a keeper.
At the same time, an unknown hacker begins targeting the locals. The hacker begins by targeting the mayor, a man whose homophobic policies belie his hidden life hiring male escorts and wearing women’s lingerie.
During a high school party, Bex finally hooks up with Diamond, who insists they keep it a secret. At the same party, Lily continues to send revealing pictures of herself to Daddy. Blissfully unaware of the hacker’s intentions, things take a dark turn when the mayor, in lieu of making a verbal statement, opts to shoot himself publicly. Bex, a trans teen girl, has very little sympathy for a man who seemed to make it his life’s work to see LGBTQ people suffer. Unsurprisingly, the internet community has even less compassion, actively ridiculing videos of the public suicide.
Targeted next is the high school principal, whom Lily actually quite likes and respects. Because he has pictures of his 6-year-old daughter in the nude, the town as a whole concludes that Principal Turrell must be a pedophile. As Lily herself points out, there’s nothing overtly sexual about the pictures; nevertheless, Mr. Turrell is booed publicly and encouraged to resign.
It’s not long before Lily, Bex, and Nance, the mother of Sarah and Em, are targeted. Police ineffectively search for the hacker but come up with very few leads beyond Marty, a local teen and Anonymous supporter. Diamond hides in shame when the truth about his hook up with Bex is revealed. And it’s not long before Mark realizes that the pictures from Nick, aka Daddy’s, phone are of Lily. Nick is Lily’s 30-something neighbor and man whose kids she used to babysit.
Shortly thereafter, the victims of the hacker turn their ire towards the women and girls who are labelled whores and homewreckers. Of course, it’s their fault that these men engaged in behavior of which they are now ashamed. With no intervention from the FBI or any other authorities, the town begins to implode as isolated incidents of public shame and violence morph into organized militias committing acts of terror.
When the police finally have more information, it’s revealed that the hacks seem to have come from Lily’s IP address. With the town turned firmly against her, a militia fueled almost entirely by toxic masculinity arrives at Nance’s house, where all 4 girls are currently staying.
Now that the battle has become girl gang vs. the entire town, who will survive the night?
3/5 Pink Panther Heads
There are quite a few things about this film that work, and quite a few that…don’t. Things I enjoy include the commentary on accountability vs. victimization when it comes to the court of public opinion. I think the message here is surprisingly nuanced, highlighting that so-called cancel culture is a tool that can hold people in power to account but can serve to reinforce misogyny and other toxic systems when used against those without. Even I have heard about Chrissy Teigen’s half-hearted apology for her bullying of Courtney Stodden, and the parallels are spot-on, especially considering how Courtney was treated by the press and the public 10 years ago.
Things I didn’t enjoy so much: the cutesy “trigger warning” at the beginning of the film, which seems to merely mock the entire concept. Additionally, despite enjoying our female focus, I couldn’t tell you a single personality trait of any of our main 4, except that Lily was our lead and Bex was cool AF and featured in my favorite scene of the film (a tense underwater nail gun fight). Besides that, the characters are fairly bland and generic.
What’s more is the male gaze at work throughout the film. It’s satisfying to see our girl gang take charge, but there are really only about 10 minutes of their badassery for us to enjoy. For the vast majority of the film, there are a lot of scenes shaming, harassing, torturing, and otherwise attacking women. I would have liked to see less of that and quite a bit more empowerment for the film to better reflect its themes.
That being said, there are many truly terrifying scenes and scenarios here. It’s a little frustrating to have some of these moments undercut with the film’s insistence on making an ironic quip. Perhaps in light of the January Capitol insurrection that feels like 10,000 years ago, the idea of an organized militia targeting anyone who doesn’t have a MAGA hat in their wardrobe doesn’t feel so far-fetched. I would have liked for this one to be a bit more fun, though who knows if I even remember what that word means at this point.