Nowadays, not only books can be adapted to film: the most important film of the year is based on a toy. Even Twitter threads (or now, Zola” King.
And this spooky season comes another Twitter thread-inspired film, “Dear David,” based on the events chronicled by artist and writer Adam Ellis that had readers on the edge of their smartphones for more than a year. Ellis updated the thread and accompanying BuzzFeed articles with updates about an alleged apparition at his apartment, including photos, videos, sound recordings, and his own drawings.
Obviously, it was immediately picked up for adaptation, but the resulting horror film, written by Mike Van Waes and directed by John McPhail, is a dark and depressing affair that glosses over what makes this story horrible by about a mile. . Augustus Prew plays Adam Ellis, and his performance is mostly limited to staring at his smartphone in the dark, navigating his apartment alone. The real scare in “Dear David” would be the revelation of Adam’s time on screen.
Set in 2017, “Dear David” is a period piece that takes us back to a time when the charts ruled and every writer on the internet was trying to be “relatable AF.” Enter the film’s real villain, BuzzFeed boss Bryce, Adam’s boss, who is naturally played by Justin Long, whose smarmy presentation about views and commitment is far scarier than any childish ghost (ironically, the director BuzzFeed executive Jonah Peretti is a producer on the film, as Ellis was working at BuzzFeed at the time and documenting his experience on the site with articles titled “My Apartment Is Being Haunted by the Ghost of a Dead Child”).
Adam looks up from his phone every once in a while and starts to see a chair in his apartment swaying of its own volition; His cats gather at the door and howl. He is tormented by horrible hallucinations that cause sleep paralysis and eventually moves to a new apartment in the hope of escaping these episodes, but they only follow him into his daily life. Meanwhile, he recounts his experience on Twitter, responding to trolls, pressured to produce more viral content for Bryce, facing the threat of losing his job in a media landscape in constant turmoil.
“Dear David” could have been an existential indie about the “contentification” of our personal lives and the damage caused by sites like BuzzFeed on the digital news landscape. Instead, it’s a boring paint-by-numbers ghost movie, a mix of tropes borrowed from movies like “The Ring” and a poor facsimile of its influences. But those digitally rendered ghosts have nothing to do with the scenes in which carefree bloggers gossip about job rotation over drinks. Bryce is the real big bad, but Long is woefully underused.
McPhail, who directed the charming high school zombie Christmas musical comedy “Anna and the Apocalypse,” has left all sense of fantasy, humor and creative innovation behind when it comes to “Dear David.” His last truly awful film lacks both artistry and insight; With its cheap digital cinematography and wacky CG graphics, this hastily cobbled together attempt to cash in on a five-year-old viral hit isn’t a movie, it’s “content.”
Katie Walsh is a film critic for the Tribune News Service.
Classification: R, for violent content, language and sexual references.
Execution time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Lumière Cinema, Beverly Hills