Boston Underground Film Festival Review: CLICKBAIT (2019)

Having recently played at the Boston Underground Film Festival (BUFF), CLICKBAIT is a laugh-a-minute horror comedy which intelligently shines a light on the soul-sucking void of social media influencer culture, without substituting entertainment value for overly preachy commentary.

Directed by the team behind Blood of the Tribades, Sophia Cacciola & Michael J. Epstein, with a script from Epstein and Jeremy Long, CLICKBAIT revolves around college student Bailey (Colby Stewart), an influencer attempting to achieve internet fame through a Youtube-esque service called Str33ker. But with great fame comes great risk, and Bailey soon finds herself relentlessly stalked by a fan, leaving it up to her and her reluctant roommate, Emma (Brandi Aguilar), as the only ones who can stop the creeping mouth breather.

CLICKBAIT is not at all what you may first think it is, and that’s the whole point. The film opens with Bailey devastated that a fellow Str33ker, Laura (Jannica Olin), is dying of cancer…not because Bailey cares, but because she now believes Laura will take the #1 spot on Str33ker that she wants. Immediately, the filmmakers have us thinking that Bailey is the epitome of your classic basic white girl with privilege, and in a lot of ways, she is. Her roommate, Emma, plays foil to these traits, since Emma couldn’t seem to care less about internet fame, and is even a little disgusted with her only friend, Bailey. Yet in a film where every man is a complete idiot, and the pressures of social media are influencing the influencers, both Bailey and Emma become loveable characters that we hope to see beat the system rather than become victim to it. It helps too that Stewart and Aguilar are a pair of highly endearing, entertaining ladies.

I couldn’t help but feel for Bailey, no matter how awful she seems on the surface because what we see on the surface isn’t real. CLICKBAIT puts the anxieties of popularity culture under a tongue-in-cheek lens, showing how people like Bailey, and even Emma, begin to fracture their personalities in order to construct new ones fit for internet stardom. This is a world, both in the film and in reality, where self-worth is measured by likes and retweets, or in this case, “Str33ker bolts”. And the major advertiser driving Str33ker is a Pop-Tart-like treat called “Toot Strudel”, which we’re constantly reminded of in Robocop-type ads that interrupt the film to tell us “there’s fruit in every toot”. These interruptions can be a tad intrusive, but the film is poking fun at the fact that these sorts of garbage products are running our lives since having these adds attached to your video makes you “someone”.

CLICKBAIT has similarities to films like Tragedy Girls or the recent Cam, a peppy, comedic horror film for the influencer age, though with much less horror and much more comedy. Seriously, this film is a riot. Cacciola and Epstein present a film that is steeped in awkward humor, such as an entire scene dedicated to Bailey and Emma discussing the poop costume Emma is wearing to a party, or Emma fainting into the open guts of a dead body. There’s even some sly political commentary inspired by Halloween, in which Bailey’s stalker wears an inside-out, stark white Donald Trump mask, a brilliant move from the filmmakers that is so genius it’s a wonder no one had thought of it yet.

Where CLICKBAIT will likely disappoint some fans is in the way that the film emphasizes the comedy to a degree where the horror-driven plot is left feeling secondary. Even though the stalker has a Peeping Tom habit of live streaming Bailey everywhere she goes, including in her sleep, the film fails to create much suspense. Despite its heavy themes, CLICKBAIT never seems as if it’s meant to be taken the least bit seriously, and even though we love Emma and Bailey, they rarely feel in danger. Outside of a few trippy nightmare scenes in which Bailey imagines herself being stabbed by various possible suspects, the threat of the stalker is minute at best. CLICKBAIT wants to come off like a slasher comedy, yet there is only one true victim in the entire film, so without a body count or genuinely eerie atmosphere, this isn’t one that’s going to get your palms sweating, though your belly might hurt from laughing too much.

This is also the type of film that will likely turn off some viewers based strictly on its appearance. CLICKBAIT’S cinematography is painfully bright, giving the entire film a sitcom look which detracts from the rare atmosphere which the filmmakers are trying to build. The effects also leave a lot to be desired, to the point where I can’t decide if that body Emma faints into is supposed to look real or not. The joke could be that the class autopsy she’s participating in is being done on a dummy and Emma can’t take it, or it could be that the film simply couldn’t afford believable effects. Either way, only one effect in the film is, er, effective, and that doesn’t come until the very end.

No, CLICKBAIT is not going to thrill you, but what it will do is surprise you, and it may even break your heart. This isn’t a film about vapid millennials, but a statement on how vapidity has become a trait which millennials are being forced into. CLICKBAIT, through a few shocking twists and turns, highlights the complete destruction of one character’s persona as they struggle with who they are and who they’re supposed to be. Even though this film is a blast to watch, there is a sense of sadness to the overall message, in which important, real-world traumas like Laura dying of cancer are forgotten, and people are judged on their surface value, and not for who they really are.

I can’t say the same for the “horror” part of this horror comedy, but when it comes to quirky entertainment with relevant themes, CLICKBAIT is an A+. The mere fact that I’m not only hoping you enjoyed this review and want to see the film, but will also share this and maybe give it a like, speaks to just how important a film like CLICKBAIT is.

Matt Konopka
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