The horror movie adaptation of the Twitter phenomenon proves unscary.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Outside of Janicza Bravo’s Twitter thread turned feature film Zola, viral social engagements have rarely yielded great art. Nonetheless, Buzzfeed Studios wades into the fray with the horror film Dear David. Based on a series of Twitter threads from their former comic artist Adam Ellis, the story chronicles Ellis’s experiences with a possible supernatural presence in his New York apartment. That may seem like a fresh idea, but the film traffics in standard scary movie tropes, a stunted look, and an overreliance on the concept.
As art imitates life, Adam (Augustus Prew) works as a comic artist, doing online strips that merge his art with Buzzfeed’s gimmicky listicles. When not expressing his creative side by depicting “17 mind-blowing thrift store treasures,” he enjoys responding to haters, trolls, true fans, and anyone else looking for a debate. His boyfriend Kyle (René Escobar Jr.) and friends Evelyn (Andrea Bang) and Norris (Tricia Black) want him to knock it off. Meanwhile, boss Bryce (played by the always good Justin Long) is breathing down his neck to produce something viral.
Adam sees an opportunity to indulge in his bad habit and deliver something to make his boss happy. He starts messing with anyone and everyone, fishing for interactions. Eventually, he runs into the mysterious Twitter handle @d_david. Like so many online interactions, this ill-advised tete-a-tete unleashes something terrible. This time, though, it isn’t hate speech or unpleasant fanatics. No, this time, it’s a ghost.
Friendly engagement soon leads to thumping noises down the hall. Visions of a mutilated teenager haunting Adam in his sleep follow close behind. Instead of suffering in silence or consulting an old priest and a young priest, the artist turns the haunting into the viral event Bryce craves. His ongoing ghost “coverage” continues to grow in popularity, encouraging Adam to press on. However, the farther he pushes, the deeper the ghost seems to be burrowing into his life. Soon, the specter seems to hollow Adam out as our protagonist neglects Kyle and avoids his friends.
Effective scares would’ve excused many of these structural problems, but they never materialize.
Narratively speaking, Dear David works more like a pop movie than a horror flick. The story frequently seems too invested in conveying the source material’s virality as director John McPhail floods the screen with text message boxes, in-time comments, and digital floating Likes. It often feels sophomoric and a cheap way to fill narrative time. Effective scares would’ve excused many of these structural problems, but they never materialize.
Like spiritual cousins Paranormal Activity and Deadstream, Dear David initially promises a refreshingly different storytelling style. Alas, it feels too cheap and flimsy in execution. The sets and cinematography look low-rent and overly glossy. Although there are some good glimpses of New York, several locations look like Canada. Not even Long’s charming self can whip up much interest. Ultimately, the silly listicles Adam illustrates offer more substance.
Dear David haunts multiplexes now.