Do social media influencers have souls? The film industry really doesn’t seem to think so. So much so that this new generation of (usually rich, usually American, but always obnoxious) streamers, hell bent on pushing their “merch” and driving their “subs” no matter the cost, are almost too perfect as horror movie victims. Who doesn’t want to see Logan Paul pissing himself with fear, while getting chased by a man with a sack for a face?
In fact, it’s such a novel idea that the entire found footage sub-genre seems to have taken a screaming left turn over the past year, to focus on just that; “livestream” screen-life movies where a nasty piece of shit is hunted down by nefarious forces, and we’re all not only allowed, but actively encouraged to clap and cheer whilst they repeatedly soil themselves. Dashcam and Deadstream, 2022’s pioneers of this new movement, lead with a mix of nasty laughs and guffaw-inducing gnarliness, and the latter even found some sort of redemption for its twisted lead along the way. Something which, in an interesting move, Travis Bible’s feature debut #CHADGETSTHEAXE seems completely uninterested in.
Closely based on his successful short of the same name, about a deliberately offensive streamer exploring a haunted house, Bible’s full-length feature builds out the cast, setting and set-pieces, but ultimately (and very weirdly) sacrifices its best character in the process.
Spencer Harrison Levin’s Chad of the title remains – a loud-mouthed provocateur with a sordid history, and a fanbase who seem to both love and violently despise him in equal measure. But now he’s joined on his adventure by luke-warm relationship vloggers Spennifer (Taneisha Figueroa and Cameron Vitosh), and anxious wannabe “Spicy” Steve (Michael Bonini), with the film’s focus constantly shifting and crossing between the streams (have they never seen Ghostbusters?).
As a result, we get a much bigger build and Bible seems very at home in the influencer sandbox, nailing the mannerisms and psychology of the world, and embracing the screen-life features too; zipping around some cleverly staged phone and computer screens. There’s some neat chemistry between the influencers, and a smattering of humanity, particularly in Bonini’s Steve that carries us through the otherwise almost overwhelming obnoxiousness.
The problems start when we finally reach the haunted house – and “axe” – in question, though. Namely, with a bigger cast, Bible really struggles to slow things down enough to build tension in the right places. Early scares don’t land and, with the inclusion of Steve on-screen, Chad’s character – slightly more complicated and empathetic in the short – gets split down the middle, with anything and everything that might one day redeem him shuffled over to his protege instead. As a result we’re lumped with a lead who’s not only annoying (forgivable, if there’s depth) but utterly one dimensional too.
And then there’s the action. The bigger Bible goes with the set pieces, the more things start to creak; a murky swamp that’s so dark it might as well be a puddle; a car chase that looks like it’s being staged at 5mph. Even the axe of the title never really gets a proper, full-blooded swing. There’s only so far a shaky camera and the underside of someone’s fingers can get you, after all – just ask any filmmaker who made a found footage movie between 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and its eventual 2016 rehash.
Bible clearly has some striking ideas around influencer culture and the effect it’s having on audiences (an on-screen comments thread is the film’s single best running joke). At times #CHADGETSTHEAXE even tries (although often fails) to engage in intelligent debate. But as a late night horror film promising scares, catharsis and overall, a good time, it stumbles more times than it scores. Oddly it feels like Bible said and did more in his 13 minute short than he manages in over an hour twenty here. One for completists and die-hard fans of the genre maybe, but if you only watch one haunted live-streamer movie, there are far better options than this one.
#CHADGETSTHEAXE screened as part of FrightFest Glasgow 2023.