Based off a Twitter thread created by Buzzfeed writer Adam Ellis in 2017, in which he describes his encounter with a ghost, Dear David is a ghostly goings-on horror movie. One that has a solid premise and a good lead actor, but falls apart when it comes to telling a coherent and frightening story.
Directed by John McPhail, from a screenplay Mike Van Waes, who co-wrote the story with Evan Turner, Dear David stars Augustus Prew, Andrea Bang, René Escobar Jr., Cameron Nicoll, and Justin Long.
Prew plays the character of Adam Ellis, a visual artist who works for the Buzzfeed website creating comic strips and artwork. The cut and thrust of the digital world doesn’t gel with him though and he feels pressure to up his ‘numbers’ and make an impact. It also doesn’t help that he struggles to let troll comments pass by.
It’s not just his professional life where he is struggling though, but his personal life too. Unable to match the love and affection shown by his partner Kyle, Adam comes across disinterested and unattentive.
When Kyle leaves to spend time with his mother, Adam gets drunk and decides to answer the online trolls. Which anyone who uses the internet will tell you, is a terrible idea. Especially when Adam suggests one troll should go and ‘die in a fire’. This gets the attention of an account called Dear David, one that demands you ask three questions.
This is the legend of Dear David, and should three questions be asked, you will die. A little freaked out by the account, Adam logs off, but David is not done with him. He wants his questions to be answered and starts to haunt Adam. Which prompts the man to go online and detail the events that are happening to him.
It is attention-grabbing stuff, but all Adam wants is answers, and to be left alone.
Internet based horror is extremely hit and miss, and Dear David does little to change that. Offering up a standard ghostly horror that feels dated already and ends up tying itself in knots with convoluted story beats. This is a classic example of where a film should have kept it simple, upped the frights, and been brave.
If that wasn’t enough of an issue, its tone is all over the place. On the one hand, it’s a straight-up ghost mystery with human drama. On the other, it’s self-referential and attempts to have comedic moments. Most of which take place within the Buzzfeed offices.
While it’s not uncommon to see this, Dear David fails to understand that the overall film has to have a lighter tone then. From silliness and winking at the camera, straight to relationship drama and night terrors. It’s such a juxtaposition that it actually becomes jarring to watch.
It doesn’t help either that Adam’s relationship woes are extremely half-baked, which include those of his friends/colleagues.
This could be overlooked if the movie made up it in the horror department, but that is also an area it is found lacking. First, the set-up feels inconsequential and over the top. Adam acts like it’s his first day on the internet, getting up upset because someone said his art was bad, and engaging with anyone that leaves a negative comment. Yet, those comments are super-tame by actual internet standards and even Adam’s ‘die in a fire’ response doesn’t seem to warrant the excessive series events that follow.
Perhaps if the story had been trying to say something about the cycle of abuse and trolling that exists on the internet, and how words can affect a person, this might have been passable. However, it’s not. Dear David isn’t saying anything of worth.
Second, the actual frights, and it’s tried and tested jump scares with very little imagination here. There’s plenty of time to watch Adam sitting around on his computer or phone wondering if he should call his partner, but no time to build tension or atmosphere.
All of this is frustrating too as the mystery around David is interesting, Augustus Prew is a good actor, and some of the visual tricks and effects are notable. Yet, the longer the film goes on, the less it holds the attention. This, made all the worse by a story that starts to get complicated and unclear. Come the end, most will feel wholly unsatisfied by the Dear David experience and, if you have no idea about its origins, left wondering what all the bloody fuss was about.
Dear David (2023)
The Final Score - 4/10