Josh, played by physical comedian and stand-up Jeremiah Watkins, is a professional reviewer of apps. Actually, I’m sorry, that’s a half-truth: he talks about apps on his YouTube channel, which has 285 subscribers, and he refuses to do any other job, despite his father urging him to stop scrounging, as he really feels that any day now he’s going to make it. He’s still bitter about his ex-girlfriend cheating on him, and his only friend is a demented would-be pick-up artist; in short, he is a perfect fit for all of the Hollywood tropes that announce, “This guy is a loser!”. So it’s no surprise, really, that he would quickly become addicted to a self-help app called i-Lived that seems to offer instant results; starting off just wanting to get a six-pack, in short order he finds that he has a beautiful, sexy girlfriend, a wealth of subscribers to his channel, and an offer for a high-paying job with a tech startup. Emboldened by all this success, he manages to convince himself that he’s just that awesome, and deletes the app, whereupon things turn South in short order: his girlfriend cheats, he loses his subscribers and his job, his mother falls ill, a creepy man follows him everywhere, and he loses his grip on his sanity. Desperate to rebuild his life, he reinstalls the app under new and much more sinister terms, and before too long has slipped off the moral slope completely.
Audiences may find it difficult to stay with him all the way. The first half-hour or so of the film, during which we follow Josh’s ascent to a better life, is as promising as his future briefly seems to be. Jeremiah Watkins isn’t very convincing as a protagonist, but, in the sections in which his obnoxious YouTube reviews are shown onscreen, he absolutely nails the personæ of various irritating Internet “celebrities”. For anyone familiar with that kind of material, these sections will be the highlight of the film, as grit-your-teeth-and-cringe difficult as they are to get through.
But they aren’t the only highlights. There is comedy, but it isn’t so overdone as to hurt the texture of the picture; and there is horror, but it isn’t overdone or in-your-face, but rather the slow dread of technological paranoia. Horror cinema has always turned new trends in technology into new reasons to be paranoid. All the way back to terrified audiences running from the Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat through the various gimmicks of William Castle, the twenty-year cycles in 3-D’s popularity, and the way that the affordability of consumer electronics made the found footage genre plausible, new gimmicks in cinema have been turned into new devices for horror. At other times, technology has been the origin rather than the mere vehicle for these scares: after the influential flickering television of Poltergeist and the repulsive goings-on of Videodrome, the evil VHS of Ringu, evil voicemail in One Missed Call, evil websites in Pulse and FeardotCom and evil Skype in Unfriended, an evil app picture begins to look inevitable. Audiences by now are so familiar with lives destroyed by seemingly innocuous technologies, both onscreen and in their real lives, that it is overstating things to have Josh’s experiences include Jacob’s Ladder-like dissociative states and a literal trip to Hell, which is what the often-incomprehensible final third of the film involves. It is a shame to waste such an obvious, yet appealing premise and such a likeable set-up on such utterly trite, third-hand horror material, and it doesn’t help that none of the characters are very likeable, nor their actors very convincing (though Sarah Power comes off best with her muddled writing as trophy girlfriend Greta). It’s hard work, going into the nonsensical world of nightmare realities, and we need some assurance that the trip will be worth our perseverance. Here, it’s just not.
There is, however, another way to watch the film. Despite the warning against the blind embrace of new technologies that the film offers, the marketing department saw fit to develop an app that allows viewers a live, interactive viewing experience, one which will hopefully not result in their souls being eaten by demons. While I don’t consider i-Lived a worthwhile viewing experience, I’m going to recommend that the patient and the gimmick-starved consider watching it twice: once just normally, and once app-enhanced; for the full app review, see here.
i-Lived is available from today on DVD and is already out on Digital, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!