Hulu Horror Double Feature: Megan Is Missing and Playdate
Well, last time it was devil-babies, and this time it’s hellish teens and pre-teens of a more prosaic sort. You know the drill by now, so let’s get on with the kid-killin’.
First up, a movie I had heard quite a bit about, but had never got around to seeing until it popped up during my indecisive Hulu scrolling. Megan Is Missing (2011) caused quite a stir when it was released a few years back, with some critics hailing it as a realistically horrifying cautionary tale about today’s teens and their cavalier attitudes toward living their entire lives online, and many other critics calling the film an exploitative piece of trash with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I’m still not really sure where I fall on the spectrum, but I will say that I wasn’t really crazy about this one, and not for the reasons you might think.
If you somehow missed all the foofaraw, Megan Is Missing was directed by Michael Goi and was another found-footage faux-documentary that was supposed to be based on a real case. The actual truth of the matter is that the film was loosely based upon the kidnapping and murder of two young Oregon girls, though aspects of other cases were also added into the mix. Director Goi is on record as saying that he made the film as a sort of public service announcement to warn parents about the dangers their children face on the internet (even though the case it was supposedly based on didn’t have anything to do with internet predators). I’m not so sure I buy that, but I’m not really going to wade too much into the larger implications of this film and what messages it might be sending; I’m just going to concentrate on whether the movie was any good.
Annnnnd…it was not. Briefly, the movie uses a mishmash of ostensibly real camcorder footage, video chats, and TV news reports to tell the story of 14-year-old Megan, a slutty and shallow “popular” teen with a terrible home life, and her best friend, the socially awkward and virginal Amy. Megan, who does drugs and whores around because Mama doesn’t love her, naively begins flirting with some rando online by the name of Josh, and because you know what the title of this movie is, I’m sure it will come as no surprise to you that Josh ends up not being who he says he is. Megan disappears, all her equally horrible popular-girl friends at school pretend like they give a shit, and the local news exploits the tragedy with all of the classlessness they can muster, which is quite a lot.
Good-girl Amy, who seems to be the only person in the movie who actually cared about Megan at all, goes to the police and tells them about “Josh.” And because this movie is kind of retarded and doesn’t know how news or police investigations work, Amy’s face is plastered all over the TV along with the revelation that she told the cops about this Josh person. Which naturally means that Josh is going to target Amy next, and yes, that is exactly what happens. Josh kidnaps Amy, and we get to see, in rather disturbing detail, what ultimately happened to Megan.
Some observations. Firstly, the acting in this was pretty atrocious. Save for Amber Perkins, who played Amy and was actually somewhat relatable, every other “teen” in this movie was annoying as shit. Yes, teenagers in general are annoying as shit; I will concede that point, but really, the portrayals here are just extremely forced, over the top, and unrealistic. None of the characters’ emotions feel genuine, none of their conversations flow naturally. Everyone just sounds like they’re reciting their lines off of cue cards. The “news” footage that’s interspersed throughout is also ridiculously overblown, but I’m pretty sure that the director was deliberately doing that to make a point about how the media exploits tragedies of this type, especially when they involve pretty teenage white girls. So I’ll give half a point for some obvious, but depressingly accurate, media satire.
Secondly, if you’re going to make a movie with the conceit that it’s entirely composed of real footage, at least try to make it believable and technologically correct. The story is supposed to be taking place in 2007, but all the teenagers casually communicate via crystal-clear video calls on their old Motorola Razrs, which was totally not a thing that those phones did in 2007. Who the fuck video calls on their phones anyway? Everyone texts, director bro. Also, a lot of the footage that was recorded by the characters was not something that anyone in their right mind would record in real life, and it’s just really obvious how some of this stuff was ham-handedly shoehorned in to forward the plot. Probably the most egregious example of this was the notorious final 22 minutes of the movie, which — SPOILER ALERT — was recorded by Josh, on Amy’s camcorder. For some unfathomable reason, Josh records himself imprisoning, debasing, raping, and burying Amy alive, AND THEN THROWS THE CAMERA CASUALLY INTO A GARBAGE CAN NEAR WHERE HE KIDNAPPED HER FROM. The police find it, obviously, which is purportedly how the footage ended up in this movie. No, Josh never appears on camera, but how stupid is this guy? He’s not disguising his voice, we can see his shoes, and there are very clear shots of the underground dungeon where he keeps his victims. Any decent police detective would be able to track this asshole down immediately, especially since he probably left his goddamn fingerprints all over Amy’s camera. And that’s setting aside the fact that they probably would have already found the dude anyway, simply by tracking the IP address he was using to contact the girls.
Now, let’s talk about that last 22 minutes for a bit. This part of the movie was what got everyone into a lather about how “sick” this film was, and yeah, in a way I can see what people were bothered about. The footage doesn’t really show anything super graphic – this is no A Serbian Film, in other words – but it can be fairly uncomfortable to watch a girl who is supposed to be 14 standing there in her underwear pleading for her life and being forced to eat out of a bowl like a dog. And the rape scene is probably more affecting than a really graphic sequence would be, since we only see a close-up of Amy’s hopeless face as Josh pounds at her, then a brief shot of his bloody fingers, indicating that she was a virgin. This scene was actually the only effective one in the film, and was all the better for demonstrating a restraint that was notably absent in the rest of this thing. And the scene where Josh opens the barrel and we see Megan’s decomposing corpse briefly was also pretty well done. The thing is, though, had the entire movie leading up to this point made us care anything about these characters at all, then this final 22 minutes would have been DEVASTATING. As it was, it was just mildly disturbing and went on for so long that it just started to get boring, which I’m sure is definitely not what the director intended.
Thirdly, I question the decision to make the kids talk and act so frankly sexual for most of the first part of the movie. I’m not arguing whether or not real 14-year-olds talk and act like this; I know some of them do, and I know that the director was deliberately trying to be shocking and edgy by portraying them this way. But in the context of the movie, I think it made the characters less sympathetic to the audience. And the one scene in particular where Megan was describing the first time she gave a blow job when she was ten years old (in what was actually an oral rape) was supposed to make the viewer feel bad for her, but it went on so long and was so unnecessary to the story that it instead came across like the director was getting off on it, or was trying to appeal to the kind of people who would get off on it. So that was pretty icky.
All in all, I didn’t hate the movie enough to set it on fire or anything, or call for it to be banned like it was in New Zealand, but I feel like it could have been done so much better by someone with more of an idea what actual teenagers are like and a lot less tendency toward sensationalistic and pedophilic sleaze. Your mileage may vary, but I would suggest skipping it; it’s not really worth the time, and it’s not nearly as shocking as it thinks it is.
The second movie in our kid-centric double feature was far more innocuous than its controversial precursor, but it ended up not really being any better, simply because it was dull and forgettable as shit. As I was watching Playdate (2012), I caught the distinct whiff of Lifetime movie emanating off the screen like stink lines off of Pigpen, and when I Googled the movie, I saw that my hunch was correct. This movie wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t really a horror movie either; it was more like an estrogen-heavy suspense thriller featuring a series of improbable events that finally culminated in the obligatory happy ending, where the ludicrously normal suburban family who had to go through some shit come out the other end not much worse for wear.
Playdate is the story of the preciously-named Valentines (Emily and Brian), who live on a nice cul-de-sac with their adorable daughter Olive and their adorable dog Hunter. At the beginning of the movie, their adorable existence is slightly disrupted by the arrival of a new family next door, consisting of single mom Tamara and her two sons, roughhousing Billy and obviously mentally disturbed Titus. Olive and Billy hit it off, and in an attempt to be neighborly, the Valentines bring dinner over for their new neighbors, but while they are there, a strange man busts into the house. As the man is taken away by police, he tells the Valentines that “they” took his kid and that “they” would take the Valentines’ kid too. The next day, Tamara apologizes to the Valentines, saying that the man is her ex-husband, that he was abusive, and that she had been trying to get the boys away from him. Emily, of course, is sympathetic, and the Valentines offer to help their new neighbor as best they can.
Soon enough, though, Emily begins to suspect that something isn’t quite kosher over at the other end of the cul-de-sac. She discovers that the man Tamara claimed was her ex-husband had actually never been married to her at all, and in fact turned up dead in a hotel room of an apparent suicide two days after he broke into her house. What’s more, the man had a son who had died in a supposed accident two years before that he had always believed was a murder.
Other sketchy things start to happen: the dog ends up dead, Billy pushes Olive off a slide and breaks her arm, and Tamara makes vague not-quite threats toward Emily. Emily becomes convinced that Tamara is beating her kids, killed her supposed ex-husband, and poisoned their dog. Lackadaisical Lifetime-movie-dad Brian thinks Emily is overreacting to everything and poking her nose in where it doesn’t belong, but Emily is convinced that there is something exceptionally shifty about Tamara and is gonna find out what it is, goddammit.
As the movie progresses in its harmlessly dumb, PG-rated way, we find out that – SPOILER ALERT, but not really because it’s obvious from the first five minutes who the real troublemaker is – Titus was the killer all along, after he attempts to crush Brian under the vintage Mustang he’s been working on, in what is surely the most avoidable attempted murder in movie history. Tamara was only acting so sinister because she was trying to protect her whackjob son, dontcha know. So yeah, the dog is dead, and Titus gets arrested, but Brian ends up fine even though it looked like his head was squished when the car fell on him, and Emily is fine and Olive is fine, and Tamara and Billy are fine, and Emily pays to have Brian’s Mustang completely restored while he’s recovering from the head-crushing, and it’s all back to blissful normalcy in Lifetime Movie Land.
This one…meh. It wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great. It just kind of sat there, not harming anyone, not upsetting anybody. There was obviously no gore, no real intrigue or mystery, no interesting character developments or plot twists. The acting was fine, but also just kind of there. Lifetime is nowhere to go for horror, or even for plots that aren’t formulaic and characters that aren’t bland stereotypes. As far as movies go, you could do a lot worse, but you could also do a hell of a lot better, so why bother, really?
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.