Generational panic is the real fear at work in "#Horror,” in which a rich-girl sleepover turns into a grisly mess and more than feelings get hurt as online bullying becomes bloody murder. The movie is the feature debut as writer and director from Tara Subkoff, previously known as an actress, artist, head of the “Imitation of Christ” fashion line and general functionary of the international smart set.
In the film preteen girls from wealthy families gather at a snowy, coldly modernist Connecticut mansion filled with high-end contemporary art. They proceed to be cruelly blasé to one another while forever attached to their phones, snapping pics all along the way. Chloë Sevigny plays the lady of the house, Timothy Hutton the father of another of the girls, and Balthazar Getty, Lydia Hearst, Stella Schnabel, Natasha Lyonne and Taryn Manning all appear in brief supporting roles.
Multiple strains of anxiety course through the story. One is from the unseen attacker hovering at the edges of the narrative from its very start. Another is over the mean-girls viciousness with which the girls attack one another via online comments and in-person insensitivities. Yet another is the way in which the parents (and perhaps Subkoff herself) feel left out amid the new attitudes and tech savvy of these youngsters, realizing they are no longer the center of things and yearning for attention.
Sevigny and Hutton (and Lyonne in her single scene) manage to make more of their roles than what was presumably on the page. Sevigny brings the archness that has been refined by her recent TV work for Ryan Murphy, as she stomps around the mansion in high fashions in the middle of the day. She also infuses the role as a discarded trophy wife with an unexpected confused sadness. Hutton seems to delight in chewing scenery as an overbearing father trying to keep his troubled daughter in line not so much for her own well-being but rather for the sake of appearances in his upscale world.
The teenage performers are left a bit more at loose ends (Sadie Seelert as the one girl from the downscale side of town is the standout), at times looking awkwardly lost as if they are awaiting instructions. A sequence in which they wear garish plastic masks and fur coats as they dance about is suitably grotesque but also feels like a music video plunked into the middle of the story.
The film works better as social satire than straight horror, as the murder plot that drives it along always feels unconvincing. A mention is made of an energy vortex that possesses those in its proximity, giving the story an added supernatural undercurrent, but little more is made of it.
"#Horror” is a bit like someone who is genuinely scared of something but tries to laugh it off. Any real concern over the young people, their modes of communication and what that is doing to genuine human feelings and interactions is quickly brushed aside for presumed fears of appearing unhip. This is true of both the characters in the movie and in a larger sense the movie itself, as the horror-film trappings feel like a defense mechanism against the deeper unease lurking at its center.
The film does not exactly announce Subkoff as a must-watch new talent, but it shows her as someone willing to explore new territory. The struggle to stay relevant and needed, particularly in the face of technological changes that are quickening the pace of generational turnover, is a fear many do not need a horror film to understand.
Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes
Playing: At the Arena Cinema, Hollywood