Twitter is haunted. At least, it was in 2017, when Buzzfeed artist Adam Ellis’ Twitter thread went viral. The thread chronicled his encounters, in real-time, with the ghost of a little boy named Dear David. Because Hollywood loves IP, the thread was quickly picked up by New Line Cinema (and later Lionsgate), and woven into the feature-length haunt, Dear David. Directed by John McPhail with a screenplay by Mike Van Waes, the film endeavors to transcend its Twitter roots, but struggles to turn bite-sized digital morsels into a compelling feature-length haunting.
“…struggles to turn bite-sized digital morsels into a compelling feature-length haunting.”
Buzzfeed artist Adam (Augustus Prew) is constantly under pressure from his boss (played by genre fave Justin Long) to create more and more viral content. Buzzfeed, existing on an economy of memes and cringe culture, is a hungry mistress, constantly looking to churn and burn sensational new content to keep up in the fast-paced digital world. Lucky for Adam, (I’d say unlucky, because he gets haunted, but he did score a movie deal and at least a million Twitter followers from the ordeal), his Sleep Paralyses starts to pay off professionally.
After a nighttime visitor named Dear David, a little boy with a concaved head, begins appearing in the well-positioned chair at the foot of his bed, Adam does what he does best. He chronicles it all on Twitter, illustrating his haunting in live-time with doodles, gifs, and memes. And that’s kind of… it. Adam unravels from the pressure and lack of sleep, which soon affects his romantic relationship, personal relationships, and people at work believing he’s, well, sane.
Translating tweet-sized frights into a full-fledged feature film presents a gigantic task that Dear David navigates with mixed success. The film attempts to stay loyal to the digital breadcrumbs left by Ellis but struggles to weave them into a coherent, compelling narrative. There isn’t a whole lot to the Dear David story (probably because it was only a couple bouts of Sleep Paralyses blown out of proportion), and the film doesn’t know what to do beyond the Tweet-length blueprints.
That said, Dear David does have an unusual novelty going for it. The film offers a quirky blend of digital folklore meets urban legend — much like a modern-day campfire tale, but with tweets instead of flames. The whimsical source material and influencer protagonist at the film’s core present pretty uncharted waters for the horror genre, and cinema as a whole, and among the few attempted CreepyPasta adaptations, Dear David isn’t in the bottom of the pack.
“…a quirky blend of digital folklore meets urban legend…”
Unfortunately, with Buzzfeed being such a timely outlet that hinges on its virality, Dear David has aready been outpaced by the digital world. Hollywood moves a lot slower than the internet, and it can take several years to get a film from development to cinema screens. In the time since the original Twitter thread went viral, Twitter is now struggling with its slapdash identity as Elon Musk’s X, Buzzfeed news is dead, and those buzzing Buzzfeed offices are a lot less lively than depicted in the film after numerous staff cuts from their continued reports of profit loss. Instead of stepping away from Dear David scared of a hip, ghostly apparition, I was saddened, longing for the simpler times when I could do a quiz on Which Disney Princess I Was without feeling guilty its writer would probably soon be out of a job themselves.
Dear David ventures from tweet to screen, yet stumbles over its own digital footprint. The film attempts to spin Adam’s short tweets into a full ghostly yarn but doesn’t have enough narrative threads to flesh it out. The spooky charm of the original urban legend gets lost in translation, leaving us more haunted by the rapid digital evolution showcased unintentionally on screen than by the ghostly tale itself. However, it might find a cozy corner among urban legend aficionados or those yearning for a glimpse into digital folklore.
Dear David hits theaters, on-demand platforms, and digital screens on October 13, 2023.
[Review] DEAR DAVID is Twitter’s Terrifying Tale Turned Tame
Dear David ventures from tweet to screen, yet stumbles over its own digital footprint. The film attempts to spin Adam's short tweets into a full ghostly yarn but doesn't have enough narrative threads to flesh it out. The spooky charm of the original urban legend gets lost in translation, leaving us more haunted by the rapid digital evolution showcased unintentionally on screen than by the ghostly tale itself. However, it might find a cozy corner among urban legend aficionados or those yearning for a glimpse into digital folklore.
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