“I spent so much time looking at you through the screen, I almost forgot you were real…”

CLICKBAIT: UNFOLLOWED Skewers Influencer Culture

How many social media followers do you have? If you’re like me, It’s perhaps less than 300 consisting largely of friends and family plus a few strangers you’ve picked up along the way. But if you’re a full-blown influencer, chances are you have a follower count in the thousands or even hundreds of thousands (only true multi-media celebrities crack 1 million). I previously covered the real-world consequences of the relentless quest for online fame in the NFB doc Anything for Fame, which would make a satisfying pairing with the outlandishly gory trappings of Clickbait: Unfollowed.

Populated by characters who have apparently never seen a horror movie in their lives, Clickbait centres on a group of elite influencers ranging from makeup maestro Peach (Roberto Kyle) to wellness guru Gaia (Ashleigh van der Hoven) to “alpha” bro Ax$el (Charlie Bouguenon) who converge on a remote villa after being invited to a influencer all-star competition by a mysterious wealthy benefactor. This tournament will be livestreamed with those who gain more followers staying in the game while those who lose followers….

Do I even have to reveal that there’s malicious intent at work and that a series of deadly contests will ensue until there’s only one blood-soaked influencer left standing? Of course I don’t. But it’s the journey that draws in the audience to such genre fare and rarely the ending. Twisted machinations of devilish masterminds help keep the popcorn flowing.   

This slasher fare comes sprinkled with biting social (media?) commentary courtesy of Canadian writing/directing team Katherine Barrell and Melanie Scrofano who also feature themselves on-screen in striking roles (no spoilers). The principal characters are finely drawn as cocky narcissists begging for clicks before being gradually de-constructed into the insecure hollow shells they really are. They are so dependent on maintaining their nameless followers that they simply can’t function without them. Some are more sympathetic than others, but most at least partially orchestrate their miserable fates. Only by the final act has the sieve of the last 80+ minutes revealed who still has a spark of hope left for a better life outside the algorithm.

At a crisp 90 minute runtime, Barrel & Scrofano effectively set up the pins and proceed to knock them down in a series of rather brutal strikes that earn the R-rating plus interest. The masterminds behind this scheme are particularly memorable as they struggle to manage their own diverging personalities while manipulating their captive chess pieces with help from a faceless squad of Squid Game cosplayers. The mayhem never overpowers the drama though to ensure that you’ll be left cheering for the last player standing.

Clickbait is disturbing enough to make you unfollow the classic influencer accounts while entertaining enough to follow the further filmmaking adventures of Barrell & Scrofano. Based on this team debut after separate individual directing stints on TV, I expect further solid entries in a filmography that will likely rise above the mediocrity that currently passes for “content” these days. I’d like and subscribe to that.




Clickbait: Unfollowed can currently be streamed on Tubi

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