Don’t Click (2020)

Don’t Click first published by

Expanded by screenwriter Courtney Ellum from G-Hey Kim’s 2017 short of the same name, Kim’s feature debut Don’t Click begins where Oliver Assayas’ Demonlover (2002) ends – with a young man logging on to a secret site where, for masturbatory purposes, he can remotely view and even encourage (via a ‘chat’ function) the live torture of a bound young woman. On this evening, though, Zane (Mark Koufos), who is a regular visitor to the site BEAT A SLUT.NET, will disappear, and when his best friend and roomie Josh (Valter Skarsgård) arrives back to their shared apartment a little drunk, he too will vanish, drawn supernaturally through Zane’s laptop to a mysterious room where there is no door, but a very prominent mirror. Zane is there too, his mouth horrifically stitched shut. Over this one long, dark night of the soul, a vengeful female ghost (Catherine Howard) and her silent assistant (Geoff Mays) will make both freshmen pay in different ways – Zane for getting off on watching her death, and Josh for turning a blind eye to his friend’s behaviour, and to the real-world suffering that such behaviour was enabling. 

“Take a long hard look at yourselves,” reads the message written in lipstick, or perhaps in blood, on the mirror in the room. These words are the j’accuse of a film that is determined to punish the errant impulses not just of its two male leads, but of any casual participant, or even abettor, in the brutalisation of women. This, of course, includes the viewer. For if Zane is viewing literal ‘torture porn’, that is also the horror subgenre to which this film aligns itself, as we, along with Zane and Josh, bear witness to all manner of torturous depravities executed upon helpless women in tackily dressed-up dungeons. Zane is also a fan of Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel and Benoît Poelvoorde’s Man Bites Dog (1992) – and much as that film’s title is Zane’s password to the forbidden site, there is a suggestion that a love for films like that – for horror films, just like Don’t Click itself – is a gateway to more depraved desires. Lest we forget, Man Bites Dog is not just about a loathsome serial killer, but also about the documentary crew that becomes ever more complicit in his unspeakable crimes. Kim has designed her film to expose even the slightest hint of complicity, and to prick the conscience – and she has us all on her hook, baited from the moment we started watching, and for as long as we keep watching.

This is a paradoxical set-up. To position us where it wants us, Don’t Click must first become what it claims to abhor: a commercial depiction of  outrages committed against women for the male gaze. Once the two boys, and we with them, have fallen into this trap of vicarious viewing (with relative degrees of willingness), the tables are turned, and Zane himself becomes the object of torture, with each of his destroyed parts – his right hand, his eyes, his penis – the very provinces of the masturbation and voyeurism that have brought him here in the first place. Through the ether(net), Josh is transported not only to the Lynchian room, but also to a series of apartment-set flashbacks which expose his own small part in allowing the troubled Zane’s misdeeds to continue unabated. It is possible to regard the glitchy room where all these atrocities unfold as the arena of Josh’s guilt-ridden nightmare (although, inside the room, Zane denies it is a dream) – or perhaps of one of Josh’s MDMA trips gone bad – but on any reading, it is an allegorical space, where responsibilities previously pretermitted are forcefully reimposed and conscience bites back hard.

Don’t Click is a confronting film, holding a mirror to its audience and chastising us for the very act of viewing what it has to offer – viewing which takes place in defiance of the film’s clear titular warning (especially, although not exclusively, for those of us watching it online). To dismiss it as mere torture porn is to miss its more reflexive aspects, and to disregard its uncomfortable moral charge against any consumer of porn and/or of horror – which is most, perhaps even all, of those watching. There may be gory agonies and dismemberments on display, but here it is we, ultimately, who are being taken apart, as the film deconstructs its own target audience, and reminds us of the real people haunting the other side of our screens.. 

Summary: G-Hey Kim’s feature debut takes a punishingly reflexive look at torture porn and its audience.

Anton Bitel