The Haunting of Hype House, written by Matt Farren and directed by Brandon Douglas, is a horror comedy exploring the nuance of the social-media-obsessed vlogger. While its subject matter is timely, the film struggles to impress on a technical level. Farren’s captivating lead performance shines while the supporting cast drives the narrative forward.
The film opens with Steve (Damion Matthews) and Casey (Katherine Smith-Rodden) celebrating their third anniversary. After a conversation about their future, Casey disappears into the darkness, prompting Steve to blunder after her before both are killed, leaving Steve’s bloodied torso to drift from view as the camera sinks below ground. Fifty years later, we meet social-media sensation Jared Zenith (Farren), whose daily vlogs mirror those who have found infamy online. Jared’s brother Eric (Michael Salamone) is in town, spending the weekend at Jared’s bachelor pad, where strange and unexplained phenomena occur. Using a handmade Ouija board and a fake diamond as a planchette, they conduct a seance that allows Steve to possess Jared.
Jared is impatient, condescending, and self-obsessed. Self-described as a prankster, he’s the kind of person who thinks everything is a joke –– even when no one is laughing. The cast spends most of the film trying to understand the mechanics of how the possession occurred instead of trying to rectify it.
Farren’s remarkable performance requires praise. He physically and audibly shifts between the Jared and Steve personas. His ability to evoke feelings of hate and deep empathy for Jared from the audience is magnetic. A scene in which Jared describes his loneliness feels contrived, but understanding the root of his behavior is satisfying.
Despite its description as a “hashtag-slinging slasher,” The Haunting of Hype House isn’t overfilled with references to modern influencer culture and internet slang. “Deadass” is used strategically to showcase Jared and his assistant Mike (Zach Tracy) co-opting the word — whose roots derive from African-American Vernacular English — as a symbol of the few moments they’re not joking. Farren cleverly avoids drenching the film in colloquialisms. Instead, the behavior of the characters speaks for itself.
As a social commentary and a satire, The Haunting of Hype House works on multiple levels. However, the flawed writing is fully displayed without an interesting score or unique cinematography, leaving much to be desired. Farren’s commitment to telling many different stories simultaneously is commendable but ultimately to blame. The film suffers from an identity crisis, with Farren unable to decide if it’s a love story, a cautionary tale, or something else entirely. As a result, the themes are articulated poorly and read as shallow. The lack of focus slows the film’s pacing. It isn’t until the third act that violence drives the film forward, but even the scene where a tiger mauls multiple people arrives too late. Thus, the film’s direction and ending leave us uncertain about how to feel.
While amusing, the film comes with more faults than strengths. Farren’s role as megalomaniac Jared shines brightest, but only the cast’s chemistry and commitment allow the audience to invest in the story. Despite its enticing premise, The Haunting of Hype House sorely disappoints.