There’s no such thing as a “safe space.” At least that’s what the riveting short Tingle Monsters sets out to prove. Imagine going to therapy and then instead of being provided with the right coping resources, you’re forced to face what triggers you the most.
After a long hiatus, one ASMRtist, named Dee, returns to do her first stream in her new apartment. What starts off as an attempt to jumpstart her normal routine quickly spirals into chaos after it’s revealed that she’s got an uninvited guest lurking behind her.
Robert Rodirguez may have invented the “one-man film crew,” but Alexandra Serio, who wrote, directed, and produced the film, takes the idea a step further by also starring in it. She also gets bonus points for being her own “final” girl. For such a small production, it does not waste an ounce of space. From the anxiety-inducing closet in the background to the crowded window we experience in real-time in the foreground and even the silly props our protagonist uses in-character, everything serves a purpose.
Sitting at only 10 min, the film is short but incredibly suspenseful, and its semi-found footage format only enhances that suspense. The entire film is made to look like a livestream. Between the host’s watermarked name in the top left corner to the scrolling chat that eventually moves so quickly that you can barely keep up, it all feels incredibly authentic. You almost forget you’re watching a film. The most authentic attribute is the constant lag that the protagonist experiences over her WiFi connection. Once it’s revealed that our protagonist isn’t alone and the stream starts to buffer, the anxiety really starts to take hold. While undeniably convenient, it’s an everyday occurrence that every content consumer has experienced which makes it all the more relatable and especially effective.
The overall inclusion and exploration into the world of ASMR, as well as the film’s constant attempt to counteract its effects, really does enough to distinguish it from other technological thrillers it may be reminiscent of, such as Unfriended or Searching. At its core, the most interesting idea the film explores is what kind of monsters hurt you more: those in real life or those behind a keyboard. Ultimately, our protagonist is put more in danger by the online voyeurs that choose to do nothing than her mysterious visitor. Even after the climax, the comments left by Dee’s audience are less concerned with how she feels and more focused on whether or not she’s put on a show.
The only real problem I had with this film is that it ends too abruptly. Just as the story reaches its climax, the stream ends. Like Dee’s chat, the real audience is left with more questions than answers. But perhaps that’s the point. Tingle Monsters may not just be a commentary on the relationship between creator and community, but an emphasis on the importance of boundaries in a world where the only thing that truly separates us all is a glass screen.