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Does ‘Dear David’ want to be a ghost story or a media content cautionary tale? It’s not so clear.

The 2007 viral ghost story gets the full length treatment, but can’t figure out who the real horror is.

Lionsgate Pictures

The internet landscape in which the original 2017 Dear David creepypasta story took off has changed so much that this story might as well have been decades ago. For one, Twitter isn’t even Twitter anymore (I refuse to call it X), and the atmosphere isn’t as kind to a spontaneous creative endeavor such as this one. Even though it was fake, there was magic to following some unexplainable experience as another person was living it – providing pieces to the puzzle in small bites. In the movie adaptation of John McPhail's Dear David, I can’t pinpoint who is supposed to be the ultimate villain, and I’m not sure the story wants to either.

Is it the ghost story that is inspired by the original thread? Maybe anonymous internet trolls that indiscriminately poke holes in people’s self-esteem? Perhaps it’s the culture of media that throws work/life balance and employee mental health into disarray and covents context at the expense of rich reporting and things of substances? Everything laid out here is touched upon before ultimately, Dear David decides it wants to be a haunting horror film– throwing much of its well-positioned themes away faster than you can make a top ten list.

Adam (Augustus Prew) is a Buzzfeed cartoonist who is feeling the stress of trying to find the inspiration for more prominent and viral illustrations. His boss, Bryce (Justin Long), is a foundation of false positivity, claiming his content is relatable but also saying it doesn’t get the reach as a probable listicle of a man coming out of a 21-year-old coma (a tie-in to the story at large). Bryce suggests that Adam lean his “funny, painful truth” that perhaps is supposed to loop into his relationship woes with his kinda-boyfriend Kyle (René Escobar Jr.). The implication is Adam is so online worrying about negative comments and trapped by work; this relationship is falling by the wayside.

One night, Adam decides to get dirty with the people spreading the dirt and tells a negative commenter to “DIAF” or “die in a fire.” This leads to a pile-on of that commenter, which gives Adam a little satisfaction. Sure, Adam could log off or “don’t feel the trolls,” as friends throughout Dear David tell him to do many times. However, that festering negativity comes with sharing all art (probably more so now with the algorithm changes). This elicits a blank Dear David profile comment about Adam’s meanness. Adam wasn’t necessarily right in what he did, but in a previous instance of the film, there is a teen kid who is far more deserving of the wrath of the ghosts.

Nevertheless, Adam’s transgression to not heed warnings inhibits an excess of haunting and torturing imagery riding the pantheon of horror cliques from flickering lights, sleep paralysis, rocking chairs, sudden figures moving quickly in the back of people – the list goes on. Writer Mike Van Waes sought to give this entity a curse-like structure – especially concerning where the overall curse begins. At the film's beginning in 1996, David’s father proclaims the internet will explode. From there, his son (played by Cameron Nicoll) is shown in a basement with an illuminated computer screen in an AIM chatroom (remember those?) Unfortunately, in sharing his drawings, the people on the other ends of those screens names are less than kind to him.

The basis is to ask two questions, never three. It doesn’t feel like anything materializes with that thesis – this is more so to have some rules to follow. David has a grand ole’ time tormenting Adam – making his relationships harder and has him questioning his sanity. It feels somewhat hollow even when broadening the story beyond the hauntings. Between Adam's meant-to-be heartfelt dialogues with Kyle or friends freaking out over his erratic behavior, much of Dear David settles into him falling into the dopamine addiction of seeking an internet following.

It circles back to what Dear David seeks to construct as the ultimate bad guy. Adam is sleep-deprived and stressed out; all the while, his boss is looking to mine his present misfortunes into a multimedia income stream. Maybe that’s the spookiest thing rather than a ghost that makes your cats uncomfortable and cherry-picks its means of online discourse.