Screenlife horror/thrillers are the new found footage, and while some of them are meh, others really know how to tell a story using computers and phones instead of straight-up cameras. Unlocked is the newest example of screenlife format, but there are plenty of other films out there that have the potential to keep you up at night.
Unlocked – In this Korean thriller, a young woman named Na-mi loses her phone on a bus after a night out drinking with her friends. As most young women do these days, Na-mi spends a lot of time on her phone posting on social media, texting her friends, uploading photos. This makes her a perfect target for the young man who finds the phone. Jun-Yeong knows his way around a smart phone, and pretends to be someone else when he contacts one of Na-mi’s friends (stored in Na-mi’s phone as “Drop Dead Gorgeous”).
His fake persona claims to have dropped the phone and broken the screen, requiring Na-mi to go pick it up at a phone repair shop – which is operated by Jun-Yeong. Na-mi soon finds out the hard way that her phone has been hacked. Jun-Yeong can now watch her through her phone’s camera, can send fake texts to her friends and co-workers, hack her back account, and basically ruin her life.
Even worse, it turns out that Jun-Yeong is a serial killer, and Na-mi is his next target. Though the entire film is not shown through computer screens and phones, we do see a good bit of Jun-Yeong’s dirty work being performed through the phone’s screen.
Unlocked is a tense thriller, and the final 15 minutes will keep you on the edge of your seat. It will also make you want to keep a close eye on your phone in the future. Unlocked is currently available to watch on Netflix.
Searching is screenlife at its best
Searching – In contrast to Unlocked, Searching is seen entirely through the lens of smartphones and computers. David and his daughter Margot are still grieving the loss of wife/mother Pamela, and in the beginning of the film, we see their relationship, Margot’s birth, and ultimately, Pamela’s illness through photographs saved to a computer. It’s a very touching and effective way to make us immediately care for the two main characters.
From there, we are taken into the present, when Margot is trying to reach her Dad on the phone, but he doesn’t answer because he is sleeping. When she doesn’t return home, David begins to discover a lot of secrets about his daughter, mostly by going through her computer. Finding out that there was so much he didn’t know about the teen nearly breaks him, but David is determined to find her…and find her alive.
Searching is an engrossing and intense thriller with a compelling mystery at its heart, and John Cho gives a great performance as David. You can watch it on Hulu, or rent it on Amazon Prime.
Host – It’s been a couple of years since Rob Savage’s Host became a quarantine sensation. Filmed entirely during the beginning stages of the COVID crisis via Zoom format, Savage directed his actors remotely, and they all had to learn to manage their own practical special effects.
The premise involved a group of friends who decide to escape their quarantine-driven boredom by participating in a Zoom séance. A psychic medium named Seylan leads the group, cautioning them to take the proceedings seriously so the spirits don’t get ticked off.
You guessed it, one of them doesn’t follow instructions. Jenna pulls a prank on her friends, and things start to get scary. Seylan disappears from the Zoom chat, and each of the participants begins to experience some intense supernatural activity.
Host seems so real while you are watching. There are some funny moments involving masks and elbow bumps, but once the horror kicks in, it kicks in big time, and you will feel like you are right there on that Zoom chat. Host can be streamed on Shudder.
Deadstream – This fun horror/comedy was one of my favorite films from 2022. Shawn was a successful YouTuber, thanks to his goofy web series The Wrath of Shawn, but he did something stupid and lost all of his followers (and sponsors). Desperate to get back in the game, he comes up with a stunt involving his solo livestreamed exploration of a supposedly haunted house in the woods.
All of the action is shown through Shawn’s livestream, and we also get to see viewers’ comments along the way. The comments are very funny, as is Joseph Winters’ performance as Shawn. When a fan unexpectedly shows up, Deadstream brings us some genuinely scary moments to go along with the comedy. You can watch Deadstream for yourself on Shudder.
Do you enjoy watching screenlife films? Tell which ones are your favorites in the comments section.