Untitled Horror Movie feels like a bargain-bin version of 2014’s Unfriended. Set exclusively over a series of video chats, we chart a group of friends—all involved in a cheesy medieval television show—as they create the bones of a new film project. It’s all experimental at first. Inspired by ditzy narcissistic blonde Chrissy (Katherine McNamara) and her strange necklace-pendulum, their little-film-that-could morphs into a possession flick. They finally settle on a tone for the movie: Kip (13 Reason Why’s hot bully, this time with a mustache everybody mocks, Timothy Granaderos) self-describes it as “The Craft meets Poltergeist.” Messing with the pendulum appears to accidentally awaken something sinister that begins targeting each of the group one by one. It is all very meta and silly, which I guess is basically the point.
Like many of the releases in late 2020 and early 2021, Untitled Horror Movie feels exclusively a product of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. I don’t know that it would even exist without the confines of the situation in the world. For some movies I’ve watched, the restrictions have forced creators to think outside the box. There just isn’t anything new here. Every character is a stereotype: Kelly (Claire Holt of The Originals) is a cocky actress with delusions of grandeur; Declan (Luke Baines, who also co-wrote the screenplay) is a trashy addict who gets dropped by his agent early on; Alex (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is the grounded voice of reason; and Max (Darren Barnet) is the well-read, overachieving mama’s boy. There is nothing to any of these characters—they are just all vapid Hollywood caricatures.
When it is most successful, UHM mocks the characters and their idiocy. Katherine McNamara really nails a vibe dead-on that I would have loved to see reflected in the movie itself. She uses “don’t go chasing waterfalls,” as a goodbye to the group call. Another hilarious line comes from Claire Holt as she whines that “I can’t die as an unemployed television actress!” The idea of the fiction meets reality angle brought American Horror Story: Roanoke to mind. Early scenes where the group spitballs ideas together for both the concept and the title itself are gleeful, reflective of the filmmaking process.
I should have seen the warning signs; Untitled Horror Movie shares a writer with the dreadful killer-Anubis film, 2014’s The Pyramid. The playful tone present early on seems to be trying very hard to emulate the vibe between characters like 2020’s surprisingly effective Host. The horror is the most disappointing element by far and never really goes anywhere. Only in the final moments does a glimmer of promise rear its head.
It is just a copy of a copy of a copy. Everything this movie does has been done before and done better. The meta charm, chock-full of celebrity and movie references, can only take you so far before it begins to grow stale. Thankfully, the strength of that excellent ensemble cast means I was never bored for a second. I was excited to see how it would play out in the long run. It turns out the movie itself ends up reminscient of the real-life one they create in Untitled Horror Movie—hollow, silly and made up as it went along. The closing credits showed that the cast was at least having fun, so in the end, that’s really all that counts anyway.
Untitled Horror Movie makes its pitch via most video-on-demand services on Tuesday, June 15th.