The Best Zoom Horror

The Best Zoom Horror

I watched a bunch of Zoom horror movies so you wouldn’t have to.

December 19th, 2021 at 3:44 pm EDT

What could be more terrifying than a breakout room? How many different ways can someone find to not share their screen? Most importantly, how much trash can you talk in chat before you accidentally send to “all”? Found-footage as a vessel for horror never quite devolved into the wandering sprite we expected. Instead, the sub-genre found clever ways of pushing its boundaries. In one mutation, the Zoom horror movie, found-footage expanded its palette to chats and anything else that can appear on a video screen: YouTube clips, social media, Google searches on the occult. If you’re looking for the best of these haunts, I have good news: They’re all solid watches. So turn on your favorite background and log in — it’s time to turn your least favorite pastime into a freaky and fun movie night.

Safer at Home

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Safer at Home eerily predates omicron. The premise: the pandemic has worsened, variants sending the world back into quarantine, and a group of friends hop onto a Zoom and take ecstasy together. To no viewer’s surprise, those pills are not “just” ecstasy. Safer at Home is an anxious movie with naturalistic performances — a major advantage of the found-footage subgenre as a default. The movie’s quarantined claustrophobia is what fans and critics are calling ‘quar-horror.’ Ingroup fighting and finger-pointing take up the middle third of the movie — true-to-life ratios of actual quarantine, I’m sure. If you can scale the somewhat awkward setup, Safer at Home delivers enough familiar terrors from pandemic life to feed dreadful catharsis.

Host

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Seance rule #1: Keep the circle closed.
Seance rule #2: Make everybody a co-host in case someone gets possessed.

In Host, a group of friends hold a Zoom seance. Amateurs, they are about as giddy as you’d expect. The girls invite a bit too much in their chanting, and uninvite way too little. Something leaks into the world.

Whether you poll critics or audiences, Host is the undisputed champion of both Zoom and quar-horror. A ghost slasher, the film finds exponentially creative uses of the format and paces your heartbeat in ascension. The taut final product is a race to the finish line, and there’s enough left rugged and unpaved along the way to bounce you like a rally race.

Unfriended 

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Unfriended follows a group of teenagers who are hacked by a ghost during a video call. Clock ticking, the teens play detective to understand what exactly is happening and how to stop it. Every single thing this movie tries works — which, given a gimmicky conceit, could have gone quite differently. The movie finds a way to introduce something new into its formula every ten minutes or so, leading to payoff after payoff. An unapologetic warning, with a title that serves at once as four or five puns, Unfriended is surprisingly exceptional and more than worth the 82-minute runtime. 

Unfriended: Dark Web

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Unfriended’s sequel Dark Web is appropriately darker than the first installment. Cousin to Nick Cage’s 8MM on one side of the family and The Counselor on the other, Dark Web once again finds several friends on FaceTime coping with an unruly, creepy hacker. On one of their laptops are disturbing videos they shouldn’t have access to, and their curiosity and good-samaritanism lead them into a world of hurt — ruled, they find, by those who know best how to hurt. Produced by horror hero Jason Blum and Unfriended returner Timur Bekmambetov, Dark Web knows how to work within its digital framing instead of around it. Creative descendent of alternative narrative forms like the letter-heavy “epistolary,” this film is more than capable of serving up unexpected thrills at moments you’ll never guess.

Ryan Derenberger is a freelance journalist and editor, a Journalism and AP Language teacher at Whitman HS in Bethesda, MD, and the founder of 'The Idea Sift.'