Employing a contemporary twist on spectatorship that recalls certain Lacanian notions of gaze, the entire movie is presented as though we are participants in a chat forum that Dee is moderating. Dee stares back at us, gently whispering in a voice that is part-therapist, part-phone sex operator about how much she missed us during the period she was silent. The forum feed is to the right of Dee’s non-threatening visage, and we watch and listen as Dee welcomes users into the session.
All is proceeding smoothly, and Serio’s ASMR-appropriate voice is wonderfully calm and soothing until we spot what looks like a human figure in the background of Dee’s screen. The chat participants pipe in with concerned questions about the mysterious figure, but Dee has taken herself offline for a moment and is unaware of what is transpiring. Is Dee in danger? Is this real, or is it a staged episode? Tingle Monsters seems to frame it one way, but can we be entirely sure? There are no definitive answers.
“…more a psychological hypothetical than a movie…”
Serio brilliantly reimagines a classic ethical conundrum for the age of constant connectivity. In the old days, a cyber-morality tale like Tingle Monsters would have looked something like this: you are walking along a darkened street and witness a person being physically (or verbally) assaulted. Do you risk the threat of being harmed (or worse) and try to intervene, or do you walk away as quickly as possible to avoid any potentially violent altercation?
Like any controversial film worth its salt, Tingle Monsters leaves the audience asking more questions than it answers. Serio has crafted a modern-day ethical dilemma for us to ponder. One that is not unbelievable for this electronic age we live in. It’s fascinating, and a little disheartening, what is read in the chat feed at the end of the film, but it makes a certain sense given the scenario that Serio offers.
The online world exists in a much darker, cynical universe than the, perhaps, more innocent past. If Dee’s circumstance in Tingle Monsters is real, we are powerless to help her; if it’s fake, she’s a heartless monster who will stop at nothing to garner precious views. Which side of the screen are you likely to be on?