Alexandra Serio’s horror short ‘Tingle Monsters’ shines a light on violence against women on the internet

Horror is not my genre of choice, but when I see that a female identifying filmmaker is behind the lens, my interest is peaked. Especially if the genre is used as a vehicle to shine a light on an underrepresented issue for womxn. Both boxes were checked for writer/director/star Alexandra Serio’s “Tingle Monsters”. She plays Dee, an ASMR Vlogger who comes back online for the first time in awhile. No specific reason for her absence is mentioned, but you get the impression it has to do with some kind of traumatic event.

Her followers are called the Tingle Monsters and we, the viewers, become apart of their community. The film takes place on the computer screen, through the Tingle Monsters’ eyes. For those who don’t know, “tingling” is a sensation felt through ASMR [Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response]. The community welcomes back Dee as we see the comments stream down the page. Dee’s calm voice talks to us in a whisper. As we are spellbound by her voice and the ASMR experience, trolls start to enter the livestream, which leads us all down a terrifying spiral.

Read my conversation with Alexandra as we talk about her motivation behind making this film and some of the technical aspects of filming through the view of a computer screen. “Tingle Monsters” premieres today on Vimeo and Omeleto. Read our conversation and watch the short below.

Alexandra Serio

REBECCA MARTIN: What brought you to this project?

ALEXANDRA SERIO: I have a visual media company called Nameless Network. We operate like a media company and a production company. We make a lot of videos, a lot of explainer content, and we have male and female hosts. We noticed that there was a difference between the comments left on the male hosts’ videos and female hosts’ videos. The difference really came down to the fact that female hosted videos always had comments about the host’s appearance, like how they held their arms and what they were wearing. Much more personalized. The comments that would mostly be on male host’s videos would actually be about the content of the video, as opposed to the appearance of the host. 

I saw that you were inspired to make the film by an article you had read. Can you share more about this article?

Based on the difference of comments made on male hosted versus female hosted videos, I wanted to see what had been written about the topic. Not just specific to cyber bullying–I mean that’s been a topic for a long time–but more targeted, daunting cyber bullying and maltreatment of women on the internet. Then I came across Amanda Hess’ piece “Why Women aren’t Welcome on the Internet”. She opened the article with her own experience receiving a rape and death threat. She explored how you would prosecute a crime like this one. At the time she was in Palm Springs, and the one who sent out the threat was in New York. How do you prosecute that? The short answer to that question is that you don’t. She goes on to talk about how receiving a rape and death threat doesn’t make her anything special, it just makes her a woman with an opinion on an internet connection. She really goes into a lot of women’s stories, but her story is the forefront and inspiration to the piece.

Why ASMR? I was unaware of the community until recently I saw an episode of this Buzzfeed series, “Follow This” where they explore subculture groups. They dedicated one of their episodes to ASMR. Were you familiar with the community before and why use that as the backdrop of the film?

I just thought it was a very interesting community. The people of the community are called ASMR artists, they exist for the sole purpose of trying to make people feel better. It’s an interesting landscape of the internet. There are people who try to simulate the contact or agency, and there’s something very calming about that. Even if you don’t receive the ASMR tingles, which about 20% of the population does, a lot of people watch it in order to relax, to calm down, to sleep. Just generally trying to reduce anxiety. I think they fancy themselves as holistic healers. Putting together a narrative of the violence against women with words in the vehicle of ASMR, which as practitioners they are trying to heal, I thought was a very stark contrast. 

Dee [Alexandra Serio] in “Tingle Monsters”

Your film ingeniously uses the aesthetics of technology in a way that delivers an emotional impact, such as the fixed angle of the camera and the increasingly rapid scroll of comments, both of which are used to intensify the suspense. How did you go about devising this visual approach? 

The film was shot in screenlife format with no extra score or sound design. It’s designed to transport viewers into a scenario they are already familiar with—the harassment of women on the Internet. The star of the film is really the protagonist and her relationship with her online following told through livestream chats. Having the film look like a real-life ASMR livestream was crucial to the realization.

What are your thoughts regarding technology-based thrillers such as “Paranormal Activity” and “Searching,” and in what ways–if any–would you consider them an influence?

I have not seen either film, but “Searching” certainly proved that screenlife narratives are viable storytelling devices that people enjoy watching. 

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