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Wednesday, October 11, 2023

‘Dear David’ Review – A Supernaturally Charged Cautionary Tale for the Internet Age

BuzzFeed comic artist Adam Ellis began a Twitter thread in 2017 that went viral as it chronicled the eerie happenings within his apartment, with sleep paralysis giving glimpses of the specter responsible, a young ghost boy with a misshapen head named David. The movie adaptation of that thread, Dead David, aims to expand the paranormal mystery that haunted Ellis by turning inward, using Ellis and his online habits to craft a supernaturally charged cautionary tale of online bullying.

Comic artist Adam (Augustus Prew) is no stranger to internet trolls working for Buzzfeed, but one day, he hits his limit and fires back. His angry replies draw attention, and Adam soon after finds himself experiencing sleep paralysis and bizarre phenomena in his apartment. As the paranormal encounters increase with malevolence, Adam takes to Twitter to detail the happenings. Adam’s boss (Justin Long) encourages him to play up the haunting online, but Adam soon finds his grip on reality slipping as David gets angrier.

Dear David John McPhail

Augustus Prew as Adam Ellis and Cameron Nicoll as Dear David in Dear David. Photo Credit: Stephanie Montani

Screenwriter Mike Van Waes and director John McPhail (Anna and the Apocalypse) seek to expand the story beyond the haunted house conventions featured in the thread by putting characters first. That means emphasizing the fictional version of Adam Ellis and his subsequent psychological journey. This version of Adam is atypical of horror protagonists in that he’s prickly, guarded, and prone to giving in to internet trolls. This Adam loves snark and keeping close friends and his boyfriend at a distance, but Prew injects enough vulnerable pathos to prevent him from becoming too unlikeable. That helps when Adam spirals from the increasingly blurred lines between fact and fiction.

That David (Cameron Nicholl) uses the interwebs on the prowl for bullies deserving of paranormal torment, combined with Buzzfeed and social media’s heavy presence, gives Dear David a dated tech horror vibe. It’s not helped by a surprising lack of scares, though McPhail does give it his all when it comes to the sleep paralysis elements. Whereas simple descriptions with pictures evoked terror in the original viral thread, Dead David sleepwalks through David’s reign of terror. From the start, David’s modus operandi bluntly telecasts the didactic anti-bullying messaging, furthering the dated quality; we’ve seen this ghostly revenge type story before.

Dear David movie

Dear David is more successful as a time capsule story demonstrating the mental toll of becoming too present online. It’s at its most engaging when focused on the snarky Buzzfeed era of 2017 and Adam’s personal relationships. Supporting performances by Andrea BangRené Escobar Jr., two adorable cats, and a quick cameo by Anna and the Apocalypse’s Sarah Swire help offset the fictional Adam’s frequently polarizing choices.

As a horror movie, though, Dear David struggles to inject any energy beyond the frenzied panic of its lead. Removing any sense of mystery behind the strange child ghost haunting, Adam winds up a detriment here and often robs the proceedings of any tension or scares. McPhail finds creative ways to evoke a spectral realm through lighting and D.P. Stephen Chandler Whitehead’s effective capturing of Adam’s shadowed abode. The filmmaker’s strength lies in his affection for his central characters over scares. While sleep paralysis often comes with intense nightmares, Dear David relegates its intensity to internal character conflict, making for a rather sleepy affair. Those looking for genuine frights are better off revisiting the original viral thread.

Dear David releases in Theaters, On Demand and Digital on October 13, 2023.

2.5 out of 5 skulls

The post ‘Dear David’ Review – A Supernaturally Charged Cautionary Tale for the Internet Age appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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