Styling: Natasha Stagg
November 19, 2015. Is cyber bullying the scariest thing millennials have to deal with? In Tara Subkoff's debut film, which premiered last night at MoMA in New York, #Horror, the message is clear: nothing is worse. A horrible hashtagged nickname, like #Fattranny, is more permanent than life, after all.
From the outset of #Horror, a killer is on the loose, but the privileged children of art collectors (played by Balthazar Getty and Chloë Sevigny), a plastic surgeon (Timothy Hutton), and a passing middle class mom (Natasha Lyonne), who are having an unsupervised slumber party in picturesque, wooded Connecticut, don't notice. Even the adults—rounded out with cameos from Taryn Manning and Stella Schnabel—their minds clouded with new age anxieties, can't be bothered to check up on their maniacal, bickering kids, who waffle between spewing hatred at one another and taking selfies with their "besties."
The intermitent animations by artist Tabor Robak help to drive home the director's insistent slant. Hashtags, emojis, Instagram-like filters, and even Candy Crush-inspired sound effects interrupt the narrative, as if to say, "Even if this film is linear, nothing within our contemporary canvas can be." The diagetic world of these 12-year-olds, in other words, is overwhelmed by its own promise of infinite reach. The technique is at once effective and self-parodying. Subkoff's first film is artful—much of the scenery and art direction is attributed to her husband, artist Urs Fischer—and at times very funny, but it's still a slasher. It purports to point out something that isn't so talked-about in feature films by its own abrasive attention to internet-y symbolism, but at the same time, for most of the film's hour and 40 minutes, the internet is off-limits to all of its characters. In classic horror form, a narrative trick gets all of the girls to lock up their phones and literally throw away the key. "This isn't safe," says one, foreshadowing something sinister happening in the just-moved into (and possibly haunted) house. "You don't even have a landline yet." "Who has landline anymore?" the party's organizer taunts.
I won't ruin the rest, but the premiere and its after party, thrown at the Grammercy Players Club, did more than point out the danger in too much cell-phone time for girls. It pointed out the similarities and differences between nightlife then and now. At the party, Subkoff's and Sevigny's longtime friends performed: Lizzie Bougatsos howled into a machine that delayed her voice by a few seconds while a yogi contorted her body onstage, a masked man pounded a drum machine, and Butoh dancers drooled fake blood. Later, Lissy Trullie DJed, and EMA played the film's original score. Throughout the night, actors played Sleep No More-like roles in each room, staring at guests while moving in slow motion, daring them to be afraid.
At one point, a woman in a black lace gown screamed at the top of her lungs and ran up a staircase. The crowd largely ignored it. Was that what we were supposed to do? Was this Subkoff's point—that we're desensitized, or at least, when en mass, unresponsive? If this is what the internet does, though, it's what New York does, too. In crowds, online or otherwise, responsibility is everyone's and therefore no one's. Besides, everyone knew she was faking.
Stepping around performance art that felt nostalgic for the days before the internet—with the option to "check your phone" at the door—the tweens in it-girl training and their predecessors couldn't help but step into their own roles from the film. (None of these it-girls from the '90s have kids, I'm mostly sure, but they will have influenced the it-girls who could be their own in as many ways as mothers can.)
Here, and in #Horror, a friend pointed out, through performance, the old and the overweight are made to flaunt their shortcomings, in the anonymous eyes of the public. The most successful part of the party, perhaps, was how so much of its happenings could not be extracted from its paid-for performances. This friend and I spent much of the night asking each other whether an ecstatic dancer, a gigantic man, a circle of chanting men in hoodies, and a man with one milky eye were asked to be there for aesthetic reasons. But then, with the entire cast other than Manning—many of whom happen to be real-life heirs to the New York social scene, like Lydia Hearst and Johan Lindeberg's daughter, Blue—and friends like Scarlett Johansson and Fred Armisen there, who wasn't?