Loosely following the plot of the first movie (if you need a refresher you can read an exhaustive synopsis here, or if you’ve never seen it and want a quick spoiler-free plot outline, here are some), it opens with a rainbow of doomed teenagers (’cause it’s okay to bother casting a racially diverse group of actors as long as they’re throwaways for the first scene) who attempt the “Charlie Challenge”, in which someone calls the spirit of Charlie Grimille from the first movie.
After the silly kids get their comeuppance, we move to our protagonist, Auna (Ema Horvath), an insecure aspiring actress who has only *gasp* two hundred followers on her YouTube page. (I know that’s small potatoes relatively speaking, but I have a grand total of thirteen subscribers myself.) Seeking more attention, she tries the Charlie Challenge. Her views rise exponentially, but Charlie’s ghost isn’t content with just making her an influencer.
The movie was made by Blumhouse (some scenes were filmed about two hours away from where I live) and released without much fanfare. It’s written and directed by the same team who brought us the first one, Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing. Unlike the original, it’s not shot found-footage style, nor is it a slasher in which a cadre of naughty teens are picked off one by one.
Auna is sweet as fucking pie. She’s perky and humble and is reminiscent of a teenage Jennifer Love Hewitt. She’s almost unbearable at times, like how she’s obsessed with a character in a kids’ movie. She lives to prove her indifferent sister and parents wrong about her acting talent: “I have to show them I’m something.”
The movie has a real PG-13 feel. There’s a low body count and not much gore. As far as sexuality, in one scene Auna and her love interest Cade (Chris Milligan) sneak away from a party up to a treehouse–to run lines. There’s no cursing beyond the one PG-13-allowable “fuck”. Auna, I shit you not, actually says, “Oh shoot!” and “Oh, frick!” when she’s upset. Despite all that, it’s rated R for “disturbing violent content”.
One scene that rubs me the wrong way and also accomplishes nothing as far as moving the plot forward is when Don (Jonathan Worstein), a stereotypical nerd character, is being harassed by bullies for not having a girlfriend or something. Auna strolls up and pretends to be dating him, which causes the mean kids to slink away. How noble–the very thought of Auna dating someone like Don and not Cade the traditionally attractive jock? Fuck you, Don, you skinny asshole! I liked that scene slightly better the first time I saw it, in Legally Blonde, when it had Oz Perkins in it.
I also want to gripe about (but not spoil!) the ending as well, which once you get there, if you think about the scene with the teens in the opening, makes no kinda sense.
Overall, I didn’t find the film insanely creepy, but there is occasionally an effective jump scare, no mean feat nowadays. It has some interesting things to say about contemporary online culture and the longing for instant internet fame. Check it out if you’re a young whippersnapper (or have one) who is just starting out in the world of horror movies and wants to test the waters.