“My personal favourite: believing that you’re in more than one place at the same time”, says Jake (Jake Weary) to Vicky (Ashley Benson), some way into Alone at Night, as he lists the hallucinatory effects of taking salvia.
In fact this is also an effect of watching any film, television or online video: the viewer, sat in one location, is imaginatively transported to another. Jimmy Giannopoulos’ feature, co-written with Diomedes Raul Bermudez, constantly reminds us of its own shifting, unstable form, and the intoxicating, dislocating slippage between its different media. For it opens with the entry page for a live-streaming adult site called 18 & Over, which was also the film’s working title, and then cuts to Paris Hilton (playing ‘herself’ and clutching a chihuahua to prove it), as she presents the ‘hottest’ new TV show Trap Stars, which places 12 strangers in a luxury mansion “chasing fame quarantined together during a pandemic”.
Meanwhile, far away in a New York City loft, Tom (G-Eazy, who also, with Goody Grace, composed the score) watches Trap Stars alone, looking mournfully on his phone at photos of himself and his ex, before inviting up the more-game-than-she-pretends Lauren (Winnie Harlow) whom he has just met on a dating site, and with her, inadvertently, a murderer armed with a crowbar. Tom has watched the reality TV show for his last time.
Vicky also loves Trap Stars, proclaiming herself “its biggest fan”. She has retreated from New York City to the snowbound family cabin in the woods of her best friend Stacy (Sky Ferreira). There Vicky hopes to spend some alone time, recovering from a recent breakup and raising some much-needed money from her cam girl work.
Yet while, as in Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam (2018), we see the clear difference between the real Vicky and the violet-wigged, sexed-up persona that she presents to her voyeuristic onscreen clients, the boundary between these identities begins to blur, even as the cabin is visited by a gallery of potential playmates, all of whom seem like male stereotypes from conventionalised porn scenarios: a tooled-up handyman (John Robinson), a pizza delivery boy (Duke Nicholson), the hunky married neighbour Max (Jon Foster) and trucker Jake. For all the supposed reality of Vicky’s situation, here, as on reality television, fantasy is playing a big part.
Sheriff Rogers (Pamela Anderson, a true signifier of cinematic fantasy) and her hapless deputy Wayne (A$AP Nast) warn Vicky of the so-called Crowbar Killer who has recently been on a local spree – and there does seem to be someone watching Vicky from the shadows. Then again, whether it is kindly JazzyLou (Luis Guzmán), or the anonymous (and effaced) creep who likes to rôle-play as Vicky’s stern fiancé, or any of her other online clients, or her meatspace visitors in the night, there is always someone keeping an eye on this cam girl…
Alone At Night puts us ‘in more than one place at the same time’ by constantly switching between Vicky’s six days out in the wilderness (each marked by a formal, slightly blood-stained title) and the reality TV show that she watches addictively in her downtime. With its confined, back-stabbing, often cheating players who are all engaging in a performative game to win fame and avoid elimination, Trap Stars offers a kind of choral commentary on Vicky’s own experiences of increasingly horny isolation.
Here everyone is watching everyone, whether on screen, online or on the sly in real life, in an ever more paradoxical panopticon that keeps putting viewers in their place as concupiscent consumers of all the tawdry spectacle. This is self-conscious, sophisticatedly postmodern horror, knowingly mixing in Halloween, a Voorheesian hockey mask and even an explicit name check of Buffalo Bill to foreground its own status as psychological slasher, and revealing itself, via a head-spinningly irrational coda, to be ‘only a horror movie’ in a reality that is also a confected, singing-and-dancing visual entertainment. There may be a confounding, ultimately Moebian, layering of screens within screens within screens here, but the moment you click and enter 18 & Over, you are a paying customer, in thrall to the commodified, transgressive artifice on show.
strap: Jimmy Giannopoulos’ involuted multi-media slasher lets desire and danger come together for a cam girl staying at a cabin in the woods
© Anton Bitel