In Kim G-hey’s debut, two college students who access an extreme BDSM/snuff site are tormented by the spirit of a dead woman, an avenging conscience intent on teaching them a lesson. Don’t Click will prove to be divisive, but it has serious points to make.
“Take a long hard look at yourselves.” This plea for introspection, a command for accountability, is written on a large antique mirror in red (possibly blood, but looking more like lipstick), situated in a mysterious windowless room recalling David Lynch’s Twin Peaks as much it does Clive Barker’s Hellraiser. Zapped into this strange supernatural realm via the website ‘Beat a Slut.net’, Josh (Valter Skarsgård) and Zane (Mark Koufos) get to experience the kind of waking nightmare victims of the website, all young women, endure, suffering at the hands of online sadists, who pay money to watch and even direct the action.
Kim is likely to be accused or dismissed as a filmmaker indulging in bad taste and harking back nostalgically to the controversial days of gorno/torture porn. Yet she and co-writer Courtney Ellum have crafted a vital morality lesson about the perils of screen entertainment. It’s more Michael Haneke’s Funny Games than Eli Roth’s splatstick shenanigans. The film’s moral purpose exists right there in its very title, Don’t Click, in its eldritch plot and such symbolic imagery as a wi-fi router covered in blood.
The film reminds us constantly that in all those atrocity clips we see online – intentionally or not – and the murkier Dark Web with its Hadean depravities, the one-way mirror of anonymity afforded by the internet desensitises while allowing humanity’s worst impulses and vices to thrive without detection. In David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, the route to sickening delights was a secret signal. Today, in our increasingly virtual world, it’s gone mainstream.
The scenes of violence are repulsive, but they’re supposed to be. Like Haneke’s 1997 classic, in which a nice bourgeois family are terrorised by smirking teen sadists, the point is to shock us out of complacency, to give us a jolt and remind us violence, especially against women, is everywhere, part of the sorry fabric of society. Zane has vanished down a deep dark hole of porn, but Josh isn’t as innocent as we initially believe, his acting clueless and bewildered is a front for hiding his own set of mistakes.
The film does look back to the era of New French Extremity cinema, such as Demonlover and Martyrs, but also to early noughties J-horror, the Saw franchise, Eli Roth’s Hostel series, and does so with a furrowed brow and concerned look. Don’t Click is anti-torture porn, a rebuke to mindless muck for the sake of entertainment. It’s likely, though, Don’t Click will be quickly accused of being exactly what it’s rallying against.
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Martyn Conterio | @martynconterio