★★ out of ★★★★★
Who knew the Dark Net was so confusing?
The things I do for you people, honestly. I picked this movie based on its name. Selfie From Hell? Really? Did we time warp back to 2005 when everything was “…from Hell”?
But I digress…
We have writer/director Erdal Ceylan to thank for this marvel of technological confusion. I’ve seen the movie and I still don’t really know what happened. Bear with me as I try to summarize.
We begin with a (mildly cheesy) snippet from a video blog hosted by Julia Lang (Meelah Adams). She’s apparently going to be investigating something known as the “selfie from Hell” so we should stay tuned. And, with a hook like that, how could we not?!
Julia flies to the United States (from Germany? I’m still not sure how we were supposed to know that) to stay with her cousin, Hannah (Alyson Walker). After being picked up at the airport, Julia is noticeably distracted by her phone with the cracked screen and insists that she’s just tired while nonchalantly asking how long it would take to drive from Hannah’s house to the warehouse district of the city. Curious.
Upon arriving at her cousin’s house — played by the beautiful William E. Mercer house in Vancouver, Canada — Julia immediately falls into a coma. Luckily, Hannah knows a doctor who still makes house calls! After examining Julia with the one piece of medical equipment at his disposal, Dr. Stethoscope proclaims that Julia is suffering from a bad infection and should be given antibiotics every 8 hours. There aren’t any prescriptions written and Julia never actually receives any life saving medication, so I’m assuming the doctor was merely giving a suggestion.
While her cousin languishes away upstairs, ravaged by infection, Hannah begins getting strange messages on her phone from none other than comatose, infected Julia! How is this possible? Obviously, it has something to do with what comatose, infected Julia was researching on her phone! Enter…. the Dark Net.
Here, we get a crash course on how to access the Dark Net courtesy of search engines and, with the help of the musical score, the most ominous browser error in history. Frustrated with her lack of progress, Hannah goes to bed and takes the battery out of her phone. Stop texting me, annoying, comatose, infected cousin Julia!
Eventually, Hannah elicits the help of her stalwart co-worker, Trevor Jones (Tony Giroux), in hopes of finding answers on the Dark Net while Julia languishes unmedicated upstairs. Happily, Trevor Jones can help! But, “trust no one on the Dark Net,” he warns. “It’s not a playground!” Hannah gives a half-hearted promise and dives head first into the Dark Net as we all knew she would — quickly handing out as much personal information as possible. After a few fits and starts, she crosses paths with someone known only as “Fear Eater”. However, since the Dark Net is apparently permanently stuck in the 1990s, he goes by the hacker ‘leet speak moniker of “F34R3473R”.
Mr. Eater (Ian Butcher) gives her a few incomplete clues and obtuse chuckles before telling her about Red Rooms and Black Rooms on the Dark Net. Red Rooms are bad. Black Rooms are oh so much worse. If you get invited to a Black Room and you look at all 13 selfies that get presented, your screen cracks. Aw, man! Do you know how annoying it is to get a screen replaced? Oh, wait, he wasn’t finished. Your screen cracks and “something evil sets its eyes on you.” Oh, jeez. That can’t be good.
What follows is an overly complicated mishmash resulting from a brain storming session where no ideas were thrown out. Do you get targeted by looking at 13 selfies? Yes. Can you only see the Bad Guy by taking a selfie? Yes. Is the Bad Guy a goofy, CGI spirit that looks like a cross between Edvard Munch’s The Scream and the Oogachaka Baby? Yes. Is the Bad Guy a weird, smiling guy named Selfieman? Also, yes. Has poor cousin Julia actually been dead this whole time? Was the false ending necessary or did they just not want to waste money by leaving it on the cutting room floor? You get the idea.
The acting in the movie was actually not that bad. The script desperately needed some additional streamlining, but the actors delivered their lines reasonably well. Production elements like lighting and sound were also decent which, as we’ve seen, isn’t always the case with low-budget films in historic homes. To be honest, this movie was its own worst enemy. Too many ideas, all of them incompletely presented, vying for attention. The end result being a giant case of… Huh?