The 7 best Extremely Online movies

The very modern nuances of influencer culture, social media and revenge porn are unpacked here.

by Jack King
|
15 June 2021, 7:00am

The last half a decade, give or take, has welcomed a barrage of movies tackling our new, Extremely Online world. It was inevitable, really: the advent of the digital age has been an epochal shift like no other, and with such seismic change comes, invariably, New Movies. Think about all the novel anxieties that no one in human history has ever before conceived of, let alone considered, as part of their day-to-day: follower counts on social media! Our exhaustive self-curation! Revenge porn! Terrible, awful things, but all ripe for movie-makers’ perusal.

Suffice to say, we're no longer living in the halcyon days of a French period drama, where rather than absent-mindedly swiping through Tinder, drowning in a sea of too much choice, you'd be writing letters to a distant lover by candlelight, waiting months for his bard-like response. There'd be no agonising over whether he'd seen your Instagram stories; no need to fish for a crumb of his approval by way of shirtless mirror selfies. Who cares that he'd eventually die of tuberculosis?

Alas, this is the age in which we live. And our brave new digital frontier isn't all that bad -- even if it is slowly blending our brains into a watery gloop, sloshing around our empty skulls. At least we've got some great movies out of it!

Assassination Nation (2018), Sam Levinson

I know, I know, everyone on Twitter takes digs at Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson because his salty and critic-jabbing Malcolm & MarieAssassination Nation was similarly divisive on release, but it's absolutely worth your time — and not just as a compelling tale for the digital age.

Here's the quickest of rundowns: Salem, a fictional town in Middle America, is assaulted by a hacker who leaks nudes online. Outrage bubbles over into a night of The Purge-esque vigilante chaos and four high school girls, led by Odessa Young's kickass Lily, buckle up to survive the night. It's gaudy, ridiculous, and deliciously chaotic. You'll want to stay for the credits, which boasts the most deranged Miley Cyrus cover you'll ever hear.

Eighth Grade (2018), Bo Burnham

Unlike Assassination Nation, this has always been a bit of a universal favourite for Film Twitter. Soft boi comedian Bo Burnham's debut feature stars Elsie Fisher as Kayla, the eponymous, lonely eighth-grader. By day, she drifts around her school anonymously; by night, she works on a self-help YouTube channel into which she channels her anxieties, teaching her imagined audience how to make friends.

We've all been Kayla: desperate for approval, for affection, or even just a shoulder to lean on. But in her mind, there's no buffer between the digital and the real: when school peers post deeply edited photos of themselves to Instagram, it's impossible for her not to pick apart her own flaws. This is probably the film -- at least, thus far -- that most compassionately captures the life of digital natives, particularly those on the younger end of the scale.

Mainstream (2020), Gia Coppola

This one, Gia Coppola's second feature after her debut Palo Alto, focuses on the three-way relationship between Frankie (Maya Hawke), Jake (Nat Wolff) and the neurotic, social media hating Link (Andrew Garfield). The latter, owing to his erratic, self-aggrandising pontifications, turns out to be pretty good on camera. So together, they start a YouTube channel -- and baby, it's a hit!

Okay, let's be honest: this one got a bit of a bashing from critics when it dropped. So why is it here? Two reasons: Andrew Garfield, as he is in basically everything he's ever been in, is great; he's campy, hot and just ridiculous. And there are some genuinely interesting takes around our desire for fame in the digital world here. It might just take some endurance to dig them out.

Sweat (2020), Magnus von Horn

What Magnus von Horn does so well in Sweat is to focus on the private turmoil of an Instagram fitness influencer, Sylwia: with over 600,000 Instagram followers and a Women's Health cover, she feels the world's gaze acutely.

When she meets her adoring fans on tour, she takes selfies and listens to their stories. Many of them have built elaborate parasocial relationships with her. This isn't so much of a bother -- it's part of the job, she reflects -- until it is: a stalker starts parking outside her apartment complex, staring at her from the driver's seat. Sweat provides such a compelling peek behind the curtain of influencer culture and bodes a formidable question: do those who sacrifice their privacy for fame deserve any privacy at all? Yes, of course, you think. But do they think they do?

Spree (2020), Eugene Kotlyarenko

Upon watching the first series of Stranger Things, I earnestly decided to die for Joe Keery. Spree, as it turns out, threatens to make that a reality. The premise is simple: desperate for clout, a failing social media personality, Kurt Kunkle, live streams an evening of murderous chaos from the dashboard of his Uber.

Over 90 minutes, as his watch count explodes and his audience eggs him on to do exponentially more deranged things, including beheading Ariana Grande's brother, Frankie, Kurt spirals ever more into insanity. Joe Keery eats it the fuck up, leaping whole-heartedly into the chaos. Give this man more starring roles!

Promising Young Woman (2020), Emerald Fennell

Emerald Fennell's directorial debut Promising Young Woman wasn't the surefire critical darling of the nominees at this years' Academy Awards, but it has built up quite the fanbase. Carey Mulligan puts on a great show as Cassie, a woman looking for revenge in the wake of her best friend Nina's rape and subsequent implied suicide.

This is the most ostensive pick on this list, but it's impossible to imagine a world in which this film was made without the existence of Twitter and Facebook. Social media is an important through-line, driving plot beats and, perhaps more importantly, Cassie towards the truth of Nina's death. Didn't see it back in April? Catch it now!

Zola (2020), Janicza Bravo

Here it is. The pièce de résistance, the tour de force, the jewel in the Extremely Online crown: Zola, the Sundance hit adapted from a 148-tweet Twitter thread. The story is so crazy that, really, it could've only come from Twitter. Waitressing at a diner, the eponymous Zola, played by Taylour Paige, meets Riley Keough's Stefani, and they immediately hit it off.

Cue a road trip to Florida and, subsequently, 75 minutes of madness: there's suspense-driven hold-ups, dilapidated motels and, crucially, sex aplenty. Nicholas Braun is, well, Nicholas Braun, but that's never a bad thing. Come for Jeremy O. Harris' snappy, biting dialogue; stay for Colman Domingo's unparalleled ability to rock the hell out of patterned shirts.

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