The moment any of us saw our first moderately entertaining Internet video that was vertically shot on a phone with the footage sandwiched between two enormous black bars of negative space, we knew the writing was on the wall. It was only a matter of time before some maniac tried to apply that vastly inferior aesthetic to a major film production. And now it looks like that's going to happen thanks to Russian director Timur Bekmambetov, the visionary who brought us Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, with a small wrinkle to the story that makes it even more preposterous than it sounds. Though to fully appreciate it, we have to set Vekmambetov's previous work with the "screenlife" format he's helped develop.
2014's Unfriended is a found footage horror movie told almost entirely through the screencast function on a MacBook.
While 2018's Searching starring John Cho is a thriller that takes place entirely on phone and computer screens.
Both use the devices we stare into for hours every day as storytelling mechanics that help the filmmakers comment on modern life. Bekmamabetov is looking to turn this "screenlife" genre into an aesthetically connected trilogy with his next directorial effort, V2. Escape from Hell., a World War II drama that will be shot with the same vertical framing of every WorldStar video of a guy getting his ass kicked in a bar fight.
A filmic aesthetic borne from the simple practical fact that smartphones are more comfortable to hold upways than they are sideways will now be used to tell a story about a time when smartphones didn't exist, and in a genre that typically relies on large wide-angle lenses to capture the grandiose horrors of war. The whole thing will be filled with characters reacting to mortar shells exploding just off-screen that we would've been able to see, too, if they just held the goddamn phone sideways.
There's a lot of unanswered questions here, chief among them being, will the empty space on the sides be taken up by an out of focus magnification of the action going on in the middle or will it be used to remind people to like and subscribe? We'll have to wait till 2021 to find out.
Luis can be found on Twitter and Facebook. Check out his regular contributions to Macaulay Culkin's BunnyEars.com and his "Meditation Minute" segments on the Bunny Ears podcast. And now you can listen to the first episode on Youtube!