The main plot follows a video call between two friends Megan (Sarah Froelich) and Jay (Ali Alkhafaji). Taking place in 1999, Megan and Jay use a webcam for the first time and stumble across a mysterious browser game, called “House of Hunger” that may in fact be haunted. Both users as well as the audience are introduced to this game with a cryptic opening display; “Welcome to the House of Hunger. Inside you will guide yourself through the endless rooms and hallways in order to make it out alive. Terror awaits you at every corner, so make each choice wisely. Find the skeleton key and you will escape to tell the story of your adventure. Choose a wrong door and your soul will be stuck here forever.
Found Footage Cinematography
conveys the narrative through two lenses- that being the perspective of the webcam, used by Froelich and Alkhafaji – as well as the camcorder, which was filmed by an unknown operator, detailing mysterious and oftentimes sinister encounters throughout the game, even taking time to show audiences a removed heart that is beating out on display in a ritualistic type fashion.
In terms of authenticity, Deadware
possesses a unique nostalgic look into webface graphics, circa the 1990s. It’s apparent that Rodriguez has put an enormous amount of effort into detailing his own unique digital-verse, from showcasing his own graphical user interface displays (or GUIs) to even the custommade techno branding that is presented behind Windows media.
The reason for filming in Deadware
justifies itself, due in part to the filmmaker’s approach in creating fictitious web browsers and communications technology, such as a company called My Video
– where users are permitted to record their web interactions online. There are many other ficticious elements and companies created throughout the narrative, including a SEO site, called Search Pile
, a chatroom titled NetMeeting
as well as a web browser, known as Internet Searcher
While the game does possess some live-action sequences entailing a mysterious camera operator, those reasons behind filming are just lightly touched upon, such as Jay’s character coming to learn that his ex-girlfriend had become obssessed with the game too in which the friends are currently playing. What perhaps makes this circumstance most ominous though, is the fact that Jay is an avid gamer who virtually knows the industry like the back of his hand, yet has never once heard of the “House of Hunger” videogame.
Found Footage Purity
The film dedicates itself to building a truly haunting virtual experience. Oftentimes referred to as ARG, or alternate reality game, Deadware
fits itself perfectly into this network narrative approach, which uses the real world as a platform and delivers a story-structure that influences the gameplayers choices. In that time, the gameplayers are also able to interact with their characters inside the game, and oftentimes solve riddles that open up doors to various secret rooms.
In essence, Deadware
exhibits an eccentric approach known as multiplatform storytelling, or transmedia narrative, which tells one story across mutliple platforms and formats itself within the usage of various technological elements. These intricacies are eloquantely displayed in Deadware
, which are in and of themselves aesthetically pleasing. Rodriguez has also earned the respect amongst others as being one of the new-age pioneers in the found footage genre, outputting numerous other works that include (but are not limited to): “Face Swap” (2016), “The Cop Cam” (2016)
, “Unknown Visitor” (2019)
, “Year Zero” (2020)
, “Last Radio Call” (2021)
, “A Town Full of Ghosts” (2022)
, “Mister Creep” (2022)
and just recently announced, “Mister Creep 2” (TBD). Despite this filmmaker’s clear passion towards the genre, his originality in the approach truly shines in Deadware
, and offers a one of a kind metacinema experience that is worth seeing alone.
The acting performances led by Sarah Froelich and Ali Alkhafaji propel the story foward in a way that is both haunting and at times, even comedic. This humor subtly displays itself through the character’s main objectives- that being Megan’s character being desperate to learn more about the game, while Jay’s character can’t seem to back out of playing, despite him showcasing full skepticism and apprenhsion. Yet, eventually when Jay does find his chance to exit the game, Megan quickly comes to learn that the game won’t allow her to continue playing without him. So after a brief phone call of convincing, Jay hastefully agrees to participate for one more hour. However, it becomes this final hour for Jay and Megan in which audiences are able to unveil the true motivations behind each of the two’s secretive yet differing modus operandis.
Deadware is a relatively short feature, clocking in at a total runtime of 68 minutes, but it is in that time director Rodriguez successfully unpacks a wide variety of legends and lore that make this story so unique, including The Six Paths in Buddhist cosmology- where beings are purpotedly reincarnated according to their karmas linked to their actions in previous lives. And in Rodriguez’s ficticious game, “House of Hunger”, each user is guided into different levels that resemble each “wheel of existence”. These are:
- the world of gods or celestial beings
- the world of warlike demigods
- the world of human beings
- the world of animals
- the world of the starving
- the world of Hell