Watch Tingle Monsters, the first ASMR horror film

The short by Alexandra Serio is a terrifying commentary on online harassment.

by Erica Euse
|
20 May 2020, 7:03pm

Dee situates herself in front of her microphone and gently whispers “Hi guys” to her virtual audience. Her voice is instantly calming, and those who have tuned into her ASMR livestream flock to the comments to share how they are comforted by the soothing sounds of the YouTube vlogger. But it doesn’t take long before viewers start to taunt Dee with offensive remarks about her appearance as she performs popular tingle-inducing tapping and brushing sounds. While she tries not to get too worked up by the harassment, things quickly spiral out of control as the online threats become a real-life menace.

While Dee’s thrilling 10-minute stream feels all too real to online creators, it’s not actually live. It’s Tingle Monsters, a short by Alexandra Serio, who directs and stars in the film. The project, which reimagines the ASMR phenomenon to shed light on online harassment, is being hailed as the world’s first ASMR horror film. “I don’t want anyone watching this thinking they are going to relax before bedtime,” Serio told i-D with a laugh.

The concept for the film came to Serio while she was making content for her entertainment company, Nameless Network. She saw first-hand how female-hosted videos would attract an alarming number of abusive comments, compared to male-hosted ones. Tingle Monsters helps illuminate the rampant online harassment that women endure from cyberstalking to rape threats. And through the lens of horror, it shows how those virtual threats can turn into real-world violence.

“I feel like we’ve accepted that online harassment and threats of physical harm or sexual harm are par for the course for women with any sort of platform,” Serio explained. “I think this is something that we as a society need to take a long, hard look at.”

To learn more about the film and how Serio came up with the genre of ASMR horror, i-D called up the Brooklyn-based artist.

How did you develop the concept of this film?
My company Nameless Network produces a high volume of social-first video content. So much of my job was perusing the comment section on different platforms to see how our content was performing and seeing what our audience liked or disliked. There was always an eerily similar vibe to the comments on the female-hosted videos. It was always about what they were wearing and how their voice sounded. On male-hosted videos, the comment section was more focused on the content that was being presented.

How did ASMR come into play?
I watch a lot of YouTube content and ASMR is at the forefront of interesting things happening there. I was always struck by how the ASMR creators were largely female and they all had care-giving characteristics. But no matter what they are doing, they attract a certain amount of criticism and hyper-sexualization. So it was fertile ground for a narrative about women’s treatment online and how violence against women starts with words. I also thought that ASMR is such an interesting medium because it is interactive. It is delivering on the promise of virtual reality in a real way without a headset or hardware.

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The livestream aspect of the film makes it feel very immersive.
Yes. Tingle Monsters was designed to be a vérité experience. There is limited sound design and there is no score. I wanted to drop the viewer directly into a scenario that they are very used to seeing, which is the harassment of women online.

What does the menacing man in the film represent?
I wanted there to be a threat that was displayed on-screen that the audience could see before the protagonist does. So much of what we see on the internet is faked. You speculate whether it is real. I wanted to leave it up to the audience to decide what they had seen.

Was ASMR horror a genre you had seen before?
I liked the juxtaposition of the mediums. This is a film that is completely whispered, but it’s still a horror film. It is a slow-burn without any jump scares. I haven’t seen anything like it on YouTube, because it goes against the goal of ASMR. It is going to be interesting to see how the ASMR community reacts to it.

What do you want people to take away from the film?
Misogyny is often thought about as what men do to women, but it’s what people do to women. I made this film because I want us all to examine our role in how women are treated on the internet.

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