Dear David : Movie Review

Posted by Eddie Pasa on October 12, 2023 in / No Comments

 

Rated R by the MPA for violent content, language, and a sexual reference. Running time: 95 minutes. Released by Lionsgate.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Dear David, LionsgateIn 2017, cartoon illustrator Adam Ellis started scaring the crap out of his Twitter followers by unfolding a harrowing tale of how he was being haunted in his New York City apartment by a vengeful, malicious ghost of a child named “Dear David.” It was a child who had apparently had his head caved in and would only answer two questions; disastrous consequences would follow if a third was asked. Counting myself among the followers who were held completely rapt by the #DearDavid thread, I couldn’t wait to see what the daily update was – these hauntings happened at night, with his cats meowing at the door exactly at midnight, heralding the start of the visitations. (Click here for the start of the thread.)

Ellis’ thread – whether true or not – was the stuff of legend. There was picture, video, and audio proof of what was happening to him, and some of it was nightmare-level scary. Pictures of David’s ghost sitting in a chair and crossing the room to stand in front of the camera punctuated one of Ellis’ terrifying morning posts. As he suffered from sleep paralysis – something I’ve gone through before – he would see David coming toward him without the ability to do anything about it. Running from it was useless, as a set of footprints in the snow proved he wasn’t even safe at a friend’s house away from New York City. Further, strange events – a hallway turning black in photos, tchotchkes falling off his shelves, sounds from above where there aren’t supposed to be sounds, a working space suddenly cleaned out in zero time, among others – plagued his waking moments, too.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Dear David, LionsgateThen, the thread suddenly stopped, as if Ellis were placed under a gag order or something. Soon, it came out that the movie rights had been snapped up, but considering how news comes and goes these days, we didn’t even know the movie had gotten Anna and the Apocalypse‘s John McPhail as its director until its release was announced a few months ago. That it hadn’t been screened or even publicized with as much as a trailer (to my knowledge) didn’t bode well, and last week, I saw why. Dear David is… well, let’s put it like this.

Did you ever have the perfect piece of wood? Great heft, nice shape, not splintery, and just damn fine to look at. But for some reason, it gets into your head that if you took one thing away from it, it’d be even better… so you take one piece away. Now, that piece revealed something else about it that needed to be taken away. So you keep whittling away at it until you think you’ve gotten it perfect… but you’re left with something you barely recognize, and maybe you should’ve left it alone in its perfect, undisturbed state. This, unfortunately, is how Dear David left me feeling.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Dear David, LionsgateHad screenwriters Mike Van Waes and Evan Turner stuck to the important events and at least tried to emulate the pictures and video footage Ellis had laid out in his Twitter thread, we would have had an excellent film. But Van Waes and Turner start trying to mine more drama from Ellis’ personal and professional lives, both of which attempt to conflict with the ongoing haunting; the effect of this takes it out of a simple haunting and into a space where apparently, David can control technology and ruin lives. There was nothing like this in the Twitter story, and it does nothing but provide superficial artifice where sticking to the story would’ve served a lot better.

Instead, we have Adam (Augustus Prew) fighting personal insecurities with his boyfriend Kyle (René Escobar Jr.), a professional slump (exacerbated by his colleagues making him feel like crap about it in their own snarky ways), and trolls on the internet who say his work isn’t good. After one drunken night spent pwning these keyboard cowboys, he gets a message from an account named “Dear David” which says, “Why are you so mean?” From here, a Ring-style story follows, replete with jump scares and spooky flashbacks while David begins a nightly campaign against Adam for being insulting on the internet.

DC Movie Critics, DC Movie Reviews, DC Film Critics, Eddie Pasa, Movie Critics, Film Critics, Movie Review, Film Review, Dear David, LionsgateVan Waes and Turner have made a flimsy morality tale about slinging insults on the internet out of what should’ve been a straightforward scarefest; Ellis provided more than enough fodder for genuine horror in his Twitter thread, but very little of it gets translated to this film. Some of the thread’s scarier moments were excised for some of the romance or professional artifice, where his friends and boyfriend get spooked out by these crazy things he’s experiencing and chalk it up to Adam just being insecure. We’re supposed to feel like Adam is slowly sliding into insanity, and Augustus Prew does everything he can to hook us with a committed performance, but when the script pulls us in so many different directions, there’s only so much we can truly hang onto. Should we be rooting for his professional life to clear up so he can feel like he’s back on top again? Do we want Adam and Kyle’s relationship – which hinges on Adam’s inability to tell Kyle he loves him – to blossom? Or do we want to rip straight into what David does to terrify Adam nightly?

Director John MacPhail attempts to balance these divisions of Adam’s life and make them symbiotic, but we can almost tell MacPhail wants to get straight to the fun. There’s a lot of thought that seems to have gone into making scares stick their landings, but the rest of it feels shallow and almost inessential. MacPhail has a lot to wrangle here, and he seems more at home with the “Dear David” elements than the interpersonal drama. But just when it feels like we’re getting into a horror movie groove and David’s starting to come out more and more, the personal baggage comes out and lands flat, feeling more like an interruption than an organic part of Adam’s story. God, I wanted to like this one. So much. I was a fan of the Twitter thread as it unspooled, and I was a fan of the notion of a film being made of it. But Augustus Prew’s fantastic performance cannot best a weak script, and that’s where Dear David fails.

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Eddie Pasa

Eddie is a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). Since starting in 2010 at The Rogers Revue, Eddie has written for Reel Film News (now defunct), co-founded DC Filmdom, and writes occasionally for Gunaxin. When not reviewing movies, he's spending time with his wife and children, repeat-viewing favorites on 4k or Blu-Ray, working for rebranding agency Mekanic, or playing acoustic shows and DJing across the DC/MD/VA area. Special thanks go to Jenn Carlson, Moira and Ari Pasa, Viki Nova at City Dock Digital in Annapolis, Mike Parsons, Philip Van Der Vossen, and Dean Rogers.

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