Computer screen films or “Screenlife” films, a name coined by director and producer Timur Bekmambetov, are a subcategory of found-footage movies that play out entirely through computer screens, webcams, phone screens, and other such electronic devices. The genre has existed ever since the internet came to be, but as technology grows more advanced and cameras and screens become more and more a part of our everyday lives, so too does the popularity of these Screenlife films.
While horror and thriller tend to be the genres most commonly associated with the Screenlife method of storytelling, you’ll find some movies on this list that fall under comedy, romance, and even satire. So whether you’re looking for a bone-chilling horror or an earnest romantic comedy, this list will surely have something to pique your interest.
10 The Den
The Den is a Screenlife horror movie about a graduate student of sociology named Elizabeth who, as her final project, starts to catalog her interactions with strangers on an Omegle-esque site known as “The Den”. Very soon after she starts her experiment, Elizabeth gets her account hacked then shortly after witnesses a murder live on the random chat site. When the police tell her the murder was likely a hoax Elizabeth attempts to prove otherwise, only to get herself pulled into something a lot darker than her project was anticipating.
What sets The Den apart from other Screenlife horror films is its thematic focus on the internet’s ability to foster inhumanity, and that idea taken to its most violent conclusion as The Den becomes a new-age Slasher film where the killer’s gimmick is the ability to appear to be anyone by way of hacking their computer.
Ratter is a psychological thriller, based on the short film Webcam by the same writer and director, Branden Kramer. In Ratter, a college girl named Emily moves to New York after breaking up with her boyfriend. Right as her new life is beginning she is hacked and subsequently stalked both online and in person from someone whose identity remains elusive. Her stalker’s actions eventually progress from cyber harassment to cold-blooded physical violence.
While not as bloody or viscerally upsetting as The Den, Ratter focuses more on the maddening paranoia that would come from constantly being watched. In addition, with the film taking place entirely through Emily’s various electronic devices, you develop a sense of tense helplessness as you watch Emily’s situation worsen with each scene, never being completely sure if you are watching her through the eyes of her stalker, or if her stalker is already somewhere in the room with her, and you’re just a fly on the wall unable to do anything.
Unfriended is one of the first mainstream horror movies to play out entirely on a computer screen. The movie starts with our as-of-yet revealed protagonist reading a news article about the recent suicide of one Laura Barnes. We finally meet our protagonist, Blaire, when she gets on a group’s Skype call with a bunch of her friends and one other random account that is unable to be booted from the chat. When the faceless account reveals themself to be Laura Barnes, Blaire and her friends are forced to play twisted versions of games like “Never Have I Ever” or risk being possessed and forced to kill themselves on camera.
While Unfriended boasts some pretty gruesome and bloody moments, the movie really shines when showcasing a lot of tense, eerie moments that take full advantage of its premise. Like, imagine if all the annoying troubleshooting things you have to deal with on a glitching computer, but they were explicit threats.
7 Face 2 Face
Breaking the mold of most Screenlife films, Face 2 Face, is a heartfelt romantic drama between two high schoolers, rather than a tense mystery or horror. Teel and Madison, two childhood friends that use online chat rooms to reconnect with each other after Madison moves to California start to open up to each other about their lives. The movie is able to be earnest and cast an unflinching gaze on dark subjects like abuse and suicide without becoming cynical or sardonic, putting it more in the same category as Looking For Alaska as opposed to Euphoria. This is also thanks in part to the incredible acting chops of the two actors Daniela Bobadilla (Anger Management) and Daniel Amerman (Arrested Development) who give such vulnerable and genuine performances that you find yourself immediately able to root for them.
A subversion to the Screenlife horror slasher, the horror comedy Spree stars Joe Keery playing Kurt Kunkle, an insane Uber Driver trying to become viral by killing his passengers and posting the videos online. Fans of Stranger Things may be somewhat jarred at first, seeing Ultra Good-Boy Steve Harrington as a vapid influencer turned serial killer but Keery takes the same charismatic energy and just aims it in a much different direction.
Collider called the movie “American Psycho for the digital age” and reviewers almost unanimously agree that the Keery’s performance is incredible and the center tenet of what makes the film so fun.
Profile is inspired by the real life investigations done by French Journalist Anna Erelle into the tactics used to recruit young women into Isis. In the film, British Journalist Amy Whittaker creates an online profile posing as a recent convert to Islam. She soon is contacted by an Isis recruiter named Bilel whom she seduces in order to get from him as much recruitment information as possible. However, as her subterfuge deepens, it starts to become harder to keep her two lives separate.
Top this all off with the fact that the entire film takes place on this woman’s very chaotic desktop set-up, the scenes where she is trying to speak with four people at once while clicking through multiple windows, tabs, and applications, the film starts to develop the incredibly fast and overstimulating pace of Uncut Gems, and perhaps the closest thing the Screenlife Genre has to a grounded spy thriller so far.
4 Thomas in Love
Thomas in Love or Thomas est Amoureux from the distant year of 2000, is perhaps the first feature-length film to take place entirely on a computer screen. In this French dramedy the titular Thomas is a man living in a very colorful and extremely-online future where his extreme agoraphobia has kept him sequestered in his apartment for eight years. Once content with his virtual girlfriend, Clara, Thomas now craves a deeper and more human romantic connection. So with the help of an online prostitute service and the insistence of his therapist to enroll into an online dating class, Thomas tries to see if he can meet someone who can help him feel content again, and potentially cure him of his fear of the outside.
3 C U Soon
C U Soon is another Thriller in the Screenlife Genre, this one from India. This one’s claim to fame is that was shot entirely on an iPhone. The film follows Jimmy Kurien, a bank employee who meets Anumol Sebastian on a dating app and quickly falls in love with her despite never meeting her in person. Things take a turn for the worse when Anu calls Jimmy one day with bruises on her face and once Jimmy gets wrapped up in her personal life she goes missing. Jimmy becomes the main suspect for her disappearance and Jimmy and his friend, Kevin must work together to find out what happened to Anu in order to prove his innocence. If you’re looking to watch a Screenlife mystery thriller that doesn’t have all the gore and violence of The Den, C U Soon is something that should go on your watch list.
Host is a supernatural British horror film about a group of teenagers who inadvertently summon a demon while performing a séance online during a Zoom meeting. Similar in a lot of ways to Unfriended however, instead of being punished for the death of a former classmate, the demon haunting the film’s ensemble cast doesn’t have any immediate origin other than being born through their ritual. Of all the Screenlife titles on this list, Host has perhaps the most unique production process.
The film started its life as an online prank that writer and director Rob Savage played on his friends while on a Zoom call with them in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Savage had recorded the prank and their reactions and after the short film went viral, Savage developed the story into a feature length film. The actors and director all filmed in their separate homes and were in charge of all of their own special effects and stunts, using practical effects like fishing wire the actors would pull themselves in order to make objects appear as if they were moving on their own. This fully independent filmmaking also did not include a script, but rather, an incredibly detailed treatment that the actors followed in real life, not even being aware of what the fate of their fellow cast members would be.
This list has a lot of movies that involve someone trying to solve another person’s disappearance but the one with the highest budget, most high-profile cast, and most positive reception is definitely 2018’s Searching. In Searching David Kim (played by Jon Cho) joins forces with a police detective to investigate the disappearance of his daughter Margot. In fact, of all the Screenlife movies on this list Searching may be the most well known and well received, Jon Cho got a nomination for Best Male Lead by the Independent Spirit Awards, and the film has gotten lots of praise for the unpredictability of its sprawling and well-paced plot. As far as Screenlife mysteries go, this very well may be the best one. Plus there is a lot to love in a movie about a father trying his absolute best to get his daughter back to safety.