Screenlife: Film’s newest storytelling tool


When Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended was released in 2014, the film’s concept both intrigued filmgoers: what would a movie that took place in a Skype call look like? Some said it would be impossible to make a visually interesting film that takes place entirely on a computer screen, and others lauded the people behind the film for the creativity. Reviews of the film were widely mixed, but many could agree on one thing: the setting of the Internet was done well, and with the right film, could turn into something amazing.

People have been trying to accomplish this ever since. On August 24, Aneesh Chaganty’s Searching premiered and answered those critics’ questions of what a well done film on a desktop would be. The thriller follows a father in his attempts to find his missing 16 — year old and left critics pleased with its’ level of suspense, compelling story and visual execution. Searching takes place entirely on smartphones and computer screens. It’s more than a gimmick to get audiences in seats; it’s an essential part of how the story is told. Everything happens on the internet nowadays, and with the desperate protagonist of the story knowing this, it only seems right that he would turn to it in his hour of need. This leads to the screen potentially being filled with clues at any moment, as well as an uneasy sense of intimacy that earned the film the honour of being one of the year’s best thrillers. Given the prevalence of technology in our world today, it’s only natural that filmmakers would explore more of these films in the near feature. In fact, there’s many on the horizon that’ll be hitting theatres soon.

In February 2018, Bekmambetov unveiled his own film, Profile, at the Berlin International Film Festival, to mostly favorable reviews. Bekmambetov’s latest directorial work is about the recruitment of young women into ISIS, a far cry from the paranormal activity of the Unfriended series.

Unfriended was expected to be a one-and-done gimmick film, with many assuming that nothing of substance could be done with a recording of someone’s desktop. But more recent examples prove that there’s both an intimacy and artistic quality to be found in the screenlife film. Whether what’s happening on screen has audiences jumping in their seats in fear or moving them to the brink of tears, this new mode can be just as engaging as more traditional films. You’re seeing events play out in real time; it feels like a form of intimacy with a stranger. These films look like real things happening to a real person and they feel like it too. Take Michael Greene’s upcoming psychological horror Live for example — the film takes place on Facebook Live, causing the filmmakers to maintain a real in-character Facebook account for the protagonist, where people who stumbled across it could watch the horrifying events unfold in real time without the thought that this could be part of a film even crossing their minds. It all adds up to a sense of voyeurism that can both intrigue and unsettle, ultimately heightening the impact of the film’s story.

It will be interesting to see how long screenlife films are here to stay for, but know they’re not going anywhere for a while. As screenlife’s biggest advocate and creator, Bekmambetov may have as many as six more screenlife films up his sleeves.  These range from a Snapchat adaptation of Romeo and Juliet to a superhero film that will no doubt stray from the format we’re used to. If these movies will be anything like Searching, they’re worth looking forward to.

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