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Into the Dark Takes on Internet Trolls in Its Dire April Fools' Day Episode

TV Reviews Into the Dark
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April Fools’ Day is terrible. The prank is just below the jump scare in terms of satisfaction, so if there’s one thing you don’t want them filling, it’s a horror movie. But monthly holiday horror anthology Into the Dark bravely forges forward with its April Fools’ Day-themed “I’m Just Fucking with You” anyway. How could it not? When an orchard of low-hanging fruit presents itself, Into the Dark rarely fails to join the harvest.

The episode—named for the refrain of a prank-happy hotel bartender named Chester (Hayes MacArthur)—is one of those horror stories that initially seems like it’s about comeuppance. Think Saw, but instead of being punished for being a drug addict, Larry (Keir O’Donnell) is tortured for being an abusive online troll. His sister, Rachel (Jessica McNamee), gets caught up in it, too, simply to give this idiot something to care about.

Thematically vacant, sexist, and sloppy, “I’m Just Fucking with You” takes the cringe-inducing concept of “lulz” to its torture porn extreme—and it’s not even shocking enough to please gorehounds. While just as wrongheaded as “Treehouse; Into the Dark’s latest installment is duller in its administration of justice: It merely brings a real-life troll into conflict with someone who operates in a similar sociopathic space on the Internet.

Recent films and TV series have explored myriad ways to immerse viewers in the particular visual language of being Extremely Online. “I’m Just Fucking with You” goes for an obnoxious, quick-and-flashy, EDM-scored portrayal of social media posting. MacArthur—adorned with the clear glasses, Hawaiian shirt, and patchy beard of hipster purgatory—goes along with it, aiming for something between Friday the 13th, What About Bob?, and Spring Breakers. His Chester ends up giving off a suitably annoying, off-puttingly strange energy, the highest peak the episode ever summits. But the prankster is just one side of the equation.

In order for “I’m Just Fucking with You” to work, it needs to establish its douchebag. Larry posts vulgar comments on people’s Facebook photos, leaves abusive Yelp reviews, and is generally an asshole online. He’s smug and timid in person, confident and bold behind a screen. You know the type. You’ve read the type. But rather than his self-loathing manifesting as Nazi ideology (in turn tacitly supported by Twitter), he’s just mad and horny about his ex getting married. Pretty simple. He’s also incredibly stupid.

You’d think a character living vicariously through an anonymous online persona would be somewhat savvy to technology, social engineering, or random cruelty. Instead, Larry is constantly shocked and baffled, responding to pranks both threatening and benign with a wet-blanket whine that starts off irritating and only gets worse. His infantilization undermines his behavior, personifying the too-easy refrain that online jerks are just losers living in their parents’ basements. It even ends the same way as “Treehouse,” with the character realizing what the audience has known the entire time (he’s the worst) and then stating it aloud. American Vandal’s Turdburglar examined the idea of a troll’s various motives; Larry’s on-the-nose ProgrammingFlaw3489 exists solely to be dunked on. And, just like the sexual abuser in “Treehouse,” his existence isn’t as satisfying as its creators seem to think.

Between the escalting pranks and their repetitive, neon-drenched connective tissue, director Adam Mason occasionally finds amusing, schlocky, or campy compositions, such as seeing a soda can drop down the machine through a frightened Larry’s legs. But Gregg Zehentner and Scott Barkan’s script leaves little room for artistry. Chugging through the slow pacing is arduous, even with MacArthur’s relatively engaging performance. Without dread, tension, terror, or humor, “I’m Just Fucking with You” gives us gay panic, fridging, and the cinematic equivalent of a whoopie cushion. It’s awful, and that’s no joke.



Jacob Oller is a writer and film critic whose writing has appeared in The Guardian, Playboy, Roger Ebert, Film School Rejects, Chicagoist, Vague Visages, and other publications. He lives in Chicago, plays Dungeons and Dragons, and struggles not to kill his two cats daily. You can follow him on Twitter here: @jacoboller.

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