TikTok dances emanate eerily around you, a cacophony of booming cackles emit from influencers as they forcefully push their latest merch (that was most likely made in some far-off, exploitative sweatshop factory), internet challenges beckon you to push your physical and mental health to the brink for ‘views’…welcome to 2023.

In recent years, the found footage genre has been soaked to the brim with satire pertaining to modern, Millennial, and Gen-Z experiences of the internet, and more importantly, The Influencer. Films such as Superhost, Spree, and Deadstream have focused on the exploitative effects the internet has on influencers themselves and their enraptured audiences. Many of these audiences are assumed to be easily manipulated teens, who are all too happy to have their own identities and beliefs molded by obnoxious and out-of-touch influencers. However, the latest in this fast-growing micro-genre is Travis Bible’s #Chadgetstheaxe holds the mirror up to the audience themselves, through a range of structural methods that showcase the producers’ ability to have their finger on the pulse of modern technology and internet culture.

#Chadgetstheaxe starts from the perspective of Spicy Steve (Michael Bonini), who is teaming up with eponymous Chad (Spencer Harrison Levin), along with ship couple #Spennifer (Taneisha Figueroa and Cameron Vitosh), to tackle the ominous Devil’s Manor that has been known to house a mysterious Satanic Cult responsible for a spree of murders. Through utilising the found footage structure, we are shown glimpses of Steve when the cameras are not live to his followers, and one gets a glimmer of character development on the horizon. Steve is clearly obsessed with one thing and one thing only – views. However, he’s shown to have sensitive, rational moments in which he questions what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Unfortunately for Steve, he’s sucked all too willingly back into the bleak black hole that is ‘influencing’, and as his views rack up to be nearing the millions, he ignores all his natural instincts to crawl, walk or run the hell away from the threat inside the manor. Leaving the glimmer of character development to become a hazy hallucinatory dream.

Steve’s untimely demise is quite a shock, as from the offset his rational moments are juxtaposed with Chad’s obnoxious and arrogant quips. Chad is, for all intents and purposes, the epitome of a Chad. He appears to be a bottomless well of toxic masculinity, spouting misogyny at any chance possible. Spennifer, on the other hand, doesn’t seem all too different as they play up to a more feminine audience, relying on outdated hetero-normative ideals of what an idyllic relationship would be. Their ‘flirting’ on screen is cringe-inducing, but the façade they portray can’t be upheld forever, and Devil’s Manor pushes their pretense to breaking point. As awful as their interactions are, they also show glimmers of human integrity and dignity, and at one point they forget their obsession with views and drive away from the manor, disturbed by Steve and Chad’s complete dehumanisation of a real-life corpse they stumbled upon. One can’t help but be reminded of Logan Paul’s infamous vlog in which he desecrated and disrespected Aokigahara, a forest at the base of Mount Fuji, nicknamed the “suicide forest” because of the large number of people who go there to end their lives. From this, cancel culture promptly kicked in (and rightly so), as Paul was forced to release a sickeningly fake apology video, and was dropped from multiple of his business ventures. In other words, Paul got the axe. This, however, hasn’t lasted long, as the ephemeral nature of cancel culture swiftly re-ignited his popularity, and despite all of his disrespect, dehumanisation, and derision, Paul is more popular than ever in 2023. 

This is the modern age of the internet, of course, a complete lack of morals can be forgiven for a coconut-water-based energy drink business enterprise. #Chadgetstheaxe however, offers character development for none other than Chad. At one point, Chad is confronted by a group of his loyal following, #Chadpions, as they offer him an escape route from Devil’s Manor. However, all is not what it seems, as they spout the morals and messages Chad himself is at the helm of, you can see the hope and life draining from Chad’s eyes as he realises the detrimental effect he has on the world. Is it that Chad is finally realising what an awful person he is?

#Chadgetstheaxe does a great job at subverting the expectations you have of characters, and in the closing scenes, the audience is hit with a barrage of viral videos and reactions from the general public towards Chad’s demise and live stream. Through this, Bible is pointing the finger back at the film’s audience and outlining their own part in toxic internet culture. Chad himself is being dehumanised for the entertainment of the hoards at ‘home’, who delight in his downfall and screech about his death being deserved. It’s only then that the viewer is hit with the home truth: they themselves are a cog in the pervasive machine of The Influencer. They are an instrumental part of the dehumanisation of all human life, for the entertainment of the masses.

Have we come no further as a society than the savagery of the Roman gladiatorial games, where men were forced to spar with one another to the death for audience entertainment? #Chadgetstheaxe doesn’t seem to think so, and it doesn’t hold back on calling everyone to account.

We watched #Chadgetstheaxe as part of Unnamed Footage Festival 666. The Film will be coming to major on-demand and digital platforms on September 1st.

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