Deadcon is set very much in the present day, in a world of vloggers, online influencers, instagram personalities and selfie celebrities, but it begins In 1984, as John Althaus (Aaron Hendry), in a hotel room attending TechCon, is having his pioneering programme Link RabB1T – an 8-bit chatroom that enables different people to connect via modem – ignominiously shut down by his investor. John can see he is right on the cusp of the future, but he has failed to get anyone to sign up online as a member – until he receives a message from one Bobby, who is lonely and looking for someone to play with him. So Bobby makes John a Mephistophelean deal: “You help me get friends in real life, and I’ll help you get friends on your computer.”
Cut to now, and the same hotel is hosting ViewCon, an event where thousands of baying young fans can make contact with their online idols. Livestreamer Megan (Claudia Sulewski) is secretly sleeping with online gamer Dave (Keith Machekanyanga), but cannot quite let go of her self-absorbed vlogger boyfriend Ricky (Lukas Gage) because of the very public status of their relationship. Megan is a victim of her own fame, but cannot quite see it.
Meanwhile one of the most popular influencers is Ashley (Lauren Elizabeth), there with her hard-nosed manager Kara (Mimi Gianopulos) to diarise her experiences live online, to be available for photo opportunities and to increase her already stratospheric fame (measured in clicks and subscriber numbers). Unlike Megan, Ashley already sees the contract that she has entered with her fanbase as a hellish burden. Struggling to keep smiling or to maintain her affable image, she longs to stop streaming and to break free of it all – if Kara will ever let her. After a mix-up with Ashley’s room, Kara antagonises the hotel’s desk staff, who transfer Ashley to 2210A – the same suite from which John Althaus had gone missing decades earlier, and which now none of the hotel workers wants to enter.
Like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining (1980), the Hotel Milamar is haunted by its own persistent history – a history partially witnessed back in 1984 by the then bellhop, now concierge Warren (Carl Gilliard), a Dick Hallorann figure who is rightly terrified of Suite 2210A. Yet what makes Deadcon different is that the diabolical curse at its centre is less genius loci than ghost in the machine. For while the film, directed by Caryn Waechter (The Sisterhood of Night, 2014) from a script by Scotty Landes (Ma, 2019), offers all the spooky chills expected of supernatural horror, it is also exposing the Pied Piper lure of the internet for young children, and the Faustian pact that people enter, however unwittingly, when they go online looking for likes, followers and fame. In the ether, where identities are commodifiable constructs and where real problems are often concealed to maintain a collective fantasy of approachable bonhomie, ultimately we are all playing hide and seek. The evil in this film – thankfully never fully rationalised, and therefore uncanny from start to finish – exploits virtual spaces to its own ends, giving rise to the best film about the demonic disorientation, fragmentation and paranoia of our wired existences since Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam (2018). And while these eerie events span several decades, the film itself comes in at a briskly economic 77 minutes, ensuring that we spend no more time with these soul-destroying narcissists than we need to.
© Anton Bitel