The plight of girls bullied by other girls has yielded several good films, from Lindsay Lohan in Tina Fey's 2004 comedy, Mean Girls to last year's sophisticated faux-documentary, A Girl Like Her, by indie auteur Amy S. Weber.
Mean Girls was too slick and funny to be taken seriously as social commentary, while Weber's offering was perhaps a bit too cerebral to win a mass audience.
Actor-turned-director Tara Subkoff walks the fine line between popular success and serious critique with her visually arresting satire, #Horror.
A rich, layered story that stitches together elements from teen comedies and slasher films, #Horror mounts a fearless, savage - if seriously over-the-top - attack on the shortcomings of a generation of girls raised on social media.
Born to narcissistic, absentee parents too obsessed by their own success to pay attention to their children's emotional or spiritual needs, the girls satirized in Subkoff's film are so desensitized by the culture that they are unable to make genuine, empathetic connections with one another. They use social media as a defense mechanism to distance themselves from the world and each other.
Featuring a teenaged cast of newcomers supported by several film veterans including Timothy Hutton, Balthazar Getty, Chloë Sevigny, and Natasha Lyonne, #Horror is about a disastrous party and sleepover that pits six seventh graders from an elite private school against each other.
The party is thrown by 12-year-old Sofia (Bridget McGarry) at her home, a sprawling modernist monster built of black stone and glass and filled with a large museum's worth of contemporary art. (One canvas features a giant 3D egg with a gorgeous velvety yellow yolk that pulsates.)
The girls spend their time playing an online game that looks like Bejeweled, but has the players take snapshots with their phones and post them with clever hashtags. Invariably, they begin sending nasty insults about one another. They seem quite incapable of relating in any other way.
As their conflict escalates, an unseen intruder begins to film them and eventually kills them off one by one in classic slasher style.
Despite its visual splendor, #Horror leaves the viewer exhausted - but also unsatisfied.
As social critique, it hits the nail right on its head - but then keeps on hitting it again and again. What's more, the characters are so unlikable, it's impossible to make any emotional investments in their story. The only person we might like is the killer.
After suffering these girls for 90 minutes, it's so freeing to see them dead. Hutton's character also appeals when he berates, abuses, and almost beats up Sofia and her friends after they eject his daughter from the party and force her to fend for herself in the icy winter evening without a ride home.
Despite its many drawbacks, Subkoff's film deserves to be seen, if only for its wildly imaginative use of the medium and for the urgency of its message, which is dire, bleak - and unforgettable.
#Horror **1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Tara Subkoff. With Chloë Sevigny, Timothy Hutton, Natasha Lyonne, Balthazar Getty. Distributed by IFC Midnight.
Running time: 1 hour, 41 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (violence, profanity, some sexuality, teen smoking).
Playing at: PFS at the Roxy.