Death of a Vlogger is an absolute gem of a film that uses the found-footage and mockumentary format in a way that feels fresh, funny and most importantly, genuinely frightening.
Synopsis: An ambitious vlogger experiences the dark side of the internet when his latest video, which features an alleged haunting, goes viral.
The great thing I found about Frightfest was the ability to curate your own experience to some degree with the use of the Discovery screens if what is playing on the main screen doesn’t quite work for you. This was the case for me on the Saturday and so I had chance to check out one of the films in the First Blood strand – the first being Death of a Vlogger.
If you have long tired of the found-footage format, I would recommend Death of a Vlogger for an example of how it is possible to breathe new life into something and avoid many of the trappings which make the format challenging. Vlogger avoids shakey-cam and always maintains a reason for the camera being on and still recording. Part of this is down to the way it uses a documentary format, complete with talking heads to chronicle the ongoing phenomenon which breaks up the online videos. Vlogger is comfortable enough to have small background events push the narrative forward and this suggests a quiet confidence in the material which is well-placed.
Director and star Graham Hughes (appearing as a character called Graham within the film) is excellent – his comfort in front of the camera through experience of his own vlogging work means that it feels very natural. I was incredibly surprised to hear at the post-screening Q&A that Joma West had not done any acting before. Her focused, but playful investigator Alice is an absolute joy and there is a scene with her very own ‘Annabelle’ which made for a very big laugh. Annabel Logan as Erin works well as a constant, supportive presence in Graham’s life. Paddy Kondracki is fantastic as the ego-driven vlogging ghost expert who gets a share of the best one-liners. All these characters are fully-formed as soon as they arrive on screen which is a real credit to the performers and writing.
Death of a Vlogger is a film which constructs itself as one thing, unpicks it all and then re-constructs itself based on a number of reveals. This is such a clever move and the directions it takes would be difficult for even an experienced director to manage and keep control of. This makes it all the more impressive that Hughes is so capable of keeping track of everything going on and making it work. In addition to being an excellent horror film with some really scary moments, Vlogger is also delving into deeper territory, taking on themes of isolation, internet shaming and the pull of social media. Its treatment of the haunting works absolutely perfectly for my tastes and the accompanying themes really add to this.
Vlogger has more than a few perfectly-pitched gags and some equally perfect scares. The haunting material is subtle until it needs to escalate and it those small, background moments that are most effective and contribute to the bigger scares. Quite a lot of the later portions of the film are some of the most tense I’ve experienced in some time with some of the imagery regularly returning to me. This film comes highly recommended as an incredible first feature.