Jocks, cheerleaders & social media influencers. This quasi-dystopian teen drama is like a prologue to Black Mirror’s “Nosedive”.
In 2003, Gus Van Sant debuted the Columbine-inspired drama Elephant.
From the onset the film was controversial- subject to a barrage of acclaim and criticism for its use of the 90s tragedy as a narrative backdrop for the events taking place at the fictional Watts High School.
Its unconventional editing style also drew mixed reviews.
Filmed in long takes, with a signature unbroken fluidity that makes it hard to tell where one scene begins and another ends, Elephant effortlessly captured the random and uneventful day to day lives of the student and faculty body at Watts High School; all of whom were blissfully unaware of the horrific events to unfold.
“It’s like a feeling of paranoia and emptiness and desperation. Like i’m missing an extension of my body.”
Taking cues from the offbeat narrative structure that defined Elephant, Distortion: A Social Media Story is a situational teen drama that explores the relationship between a group of young adults and social media.
It is told as an anthology of stories interwoven by a cast of characters who go to the same school.
Although the students know each other through first, second or third degree connections, a handful of them use video diaries as a replacement for human interaction. Vlogging is their intimate confessional with the rest of the world.
From the girl who worries for a friend who might be depressed to the self-righteous bigot who promotes a hateful ideology, one of the prevailing themes is that everyone talks about people rather than to them.
The social handicap these teens face is obvious. Vlogging gives them a false sense of catharsis. Instead of opening themselves up to a world of hurt from sharing their feelings or having their opinions challenged, they simply upload their thoughts to the net and disengage from the burden of communication with their peers.
“Not to brag or anything, Crystal. But my account has around 50,000 followers. And you know how I got them? Just by being myself.”
Meanwhile, Joseph and Mackenzie spend their time on Instagram and Twitter-like platforms.
Mackenzie is obsessed with trading photoshopped selfies for likes, while Joseph pretends he is a world-famous rapper who interacts with his adoring fans.
For both, the pursuit of validation through fame is integral to their feelings of self worth.
A like is never merely a like, for example, but instead recognition of their uniqueness, lovability and acknowledgement of their outer beauty and innate creativity.
Distortion: A Social Media Story is a thought-provoking film that highlights youth culture’s unrequited love affair with social media; a dangerously fickle mob to rely on for emotional well being.
The film’s major critique is that it is sometimes a bit rough to digest;
A few of the characters could have been developed more, the script lacks the teenspeak it requires to sound natural and some of the dialogue is too obvious at trying to make its point.
However, as a first feature-length independent film from writer and director Javier Espinoza (who appears in the film as the school counselor), Distortion’s ironic caricatures, dreamy soundtrack and quirky after school special vibe seems like a prologue to the post-dystopian mobile ratings-driven society we saw in Black Mirror’s “Nosedive”.
Indie Rating: 3/5