After the unfathomable success of the found footage horror film The Blair Witch Project in 1999, this new kind of visual storytelling became a frequent experience for horror directors. Numerous found-picture horror films have attempted to replicate its success, with the results mostly disappointing. After a series of early 2000s horrors were criticized for being too generic and boring, audiences begged for something unique to add to the subgenre. With the growing popularity of the internet as well as advances in technology, a new type of found footage horror has emerged, better known today as screenlife movies.
What are Screenlife movies?
Not strictly limited to the horror genre, a screenlife movie takes place entirely on a screen, be it a computer, phone, or tablet. One of the most memorable examples of this came in 2014 with the horror movie friendless, a supernatural horror film that takes place entirely on a MacBook. He sees a group of teenagers talking casually on Skype before strange things start to happen, which concerns a college student who recently committed suicide. Although the success was not as remarkable as The Blair Witch Project Where paranormal activity, he was still hugely impressive, and to this day is still credited with sparking interest in the screenlife subgenre. Similar success was seen with its sequel Not friend: Dark Weband since then screenlife horror movies like The den, Host, Partyand Research were well received by the public – the last of which was particularly acclaimed, with a sequel, Faded away, on my way. However, as important as friendless was to popularize the screenlife film, it was not the first of its kind. In fact, it was far from the case, because the first screenlife horror film was released twelve years earlier with The history of Collingwood.
Screenlife’s first film was “The Collingswood Story”
Although The history of Collingwood was released on DVD in 2002, it gained further attention three years later in 2005 when it screened at various film festivals including Frightfest. It was following these festival screenings that the film began to garner particularly rave fans for its inventiveness. It was made at a time when video chat sites were a relatively new concept, and the way the film creates its scares through the screen was particularly impressive. As a result, it won several awards at these festivals, but still escaped many people’s radars. When friendless came and popularized the horror of screen life, The history of Collingwood was barely in the conversation despite being a pioneer in the subgenre. Watching many horror films on modern screens, it is extremely evident that each of them owes a lot to The history of Collingwood in terms of visuals, plots, and character types. Screenlife films almost always focus on teenagers for their generally excessive use of phones and tablets. The global obsession with social media is not heavily addressed in The history of Collingwood because it was made in a world very different from the one we know today. However, it remains ahead of its time in many other respects.
What is “The Collingswood Story” about?
The expected limited cast is led by Stephanie Dees and Johnny Burton like Rebecca and Johnny, a college couple who talk through a webcam to keep their relationship at bay. The couple eventually come into contact with a mysterious online psychic called Vera Madeline (Diane Behrens) which triggers a number of unexplained supernatural events on both ends of their appeal. Behrens’ performance ranges from cold to cheesy, which portrays the character’s uncertainty terribly. Vera’s appearance is outsized and the way her behavior becomes increasingly strange makes her suspicious. Whenever she is on screen, she is in a dimly lit room and wears thick sunglasses that somewhat conceal her identity. She also behaves differently, acting either as an intense seer who would never break character in front of clients, or as someone who is flippant about the supernatural. The uncertainties surrounding the character form an unexpected and horrifying revelation. Similarities can be seen between Vera and the character of Seylan (Seylan Baxter) of wild robit is Host. Although Savage never spoke of The history of Collingwood as an inspiration, Seylan certainly feels like a toned down version of Vera and their roles as online psychics have equally disastrous results. Aesthetically, Host looks a lot like an updated version of The history of Collingwood on modern video calling software.
The history of Collingwoodscreenwriter and director Michael Costanza had previously directed short films and music videos. In 1993, he made mom saida detective short about race relations in 1960s America that was nominated for the Palme d’Or for Short Film at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival. It began production on The history of Collingwood in 2000, years before video conferencing and chat sites were common. In an early scene, Johnny offers Rebecca a webcam so they can maintain their relationship from a distance and Rebecca in particular is surprised by the capabilities of the software. She is also confused by the way everything works and Johnny reassures her that it takes some getting used to. This scene is innocent enough and is only meant to introduce the characters and show the audience how the unique visuals of screen life will play out for the entirety of the film. Costanza revealed in the making of the documentary, behind the story, on the 2021 Blu-ray release, which he developed the narrative after reading a news article about a 19th century mass murder. On top of that, Costanza also revealed in a recent podcast that he was inspired by The Blair Witch Project and infomercials for the Psychic Friends Network.
Since the Blu-ray release via Cauldron Films, more viewers have been attracted to The history of Collingwood. However, its recognition is still far from what it deserves for being the first screenlife horror film. This took found footage in a new direction and paved the way for the success of other screenlife films once the technology gained greater recognition. It is currently streaming on Shudder. A similar circumstance came with another screenlife horror movie, Megan has disappeared. Although originally released in 2011, its popularity only skyrocketed years later following the success of other films. The possibilities within the subgenre are seemingly endless given the continued development of technology and it’s more than likely that there will be a number of resurgences over the next few years.
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‘The Collingswood Story’ introduced a new kind of found footage horror – CNET – ApparelGeek