Are movies that take place entirely on computer screens replacing found footage films as the new go-to format for the horror genre — and perhaps beyond?
Filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov seems to think so. The producer behind the computer-screen horror film Unfriended and its recent sequel Unfriended: Dark Web — who is also a producer on the similar Searching, which comes out next Friday (Aug. 24) — told the Los Angeles Times in a new profile that he has some 14 movies in development, all of which take place on those screens that we all seem to spend so much time on these days.
And that, says Bekmambetov, is exactly the point. He explained to the Times, "I don’t know if it’s bad or good, but I feel that half of my life — the most important events of my life — are happening on screen today. I’m finding friends, losing friends, falling in love, losing people I love, making projects, collaborating and fighting and arguing."
The Russian-Kazakh director, writer and producer — who first came to international attention with the dark fantasy films Night Watch and Day Watch before coming to Hollywood to make Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter — has developed a technology called "Screenlife" with which to make films that take place wholly inside computer screens.
The question is whether audiences will want to see those movies, especially if they fall outside the horror genre as some of Bekmambetov's upcoming projects do. Computer screen movies are a sort of offshoot of the found footage genre, which is why the format lends itself easily to a genuinely eerie film like 2014's Unfriended.
That movie — about a group of friends interacting online with the vengeful spirit of a girl they bullied into suicide — cost just $1 million to make and earned $64 million at the box office. But this past July's sequel, Unfriended: Dark Web, has collected just $9.2 million so far and doesn't seem likely to repeat the success of its predecessor.
Next up is Searching, which falls more in the thriller genre than horror as John Cho (Star Trek) hunts online for clues about what has happened to his missing daughter. Bekmambetov is also developing romances and comedies using the Screenlife approach.
Whatever happens next for this latest sub-genre, Bekmambetov says it's doubtful he'll return to the usual way of making movies: "I had a feeling that I cannot go back. That to make traditional movies is kind of a little boring, because you know how to make these movies. They’ve been made for a hundred years!"
Have you seen either of the Unfriended movies and, if so, what did you think of the "computer screen" format? Do you think this could be one possible future for how stories are told and movies are made?