I know they’re insanely popular but I’ve got to be honest, those ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Median Response) videos have always creeped me out at least as much as the 3+ horror movies I watch almost every week. There’s something about the low-toned voices, the weird sound of someone cutting up a bar of soap, or gently pawing at the textured grille on a microphone that reads as sinister to me, rather than relaxing. Alexandra Serio’s short film Tingle Monsters, which is currently running as part of the shorts programme at the Berlin Final Girls Film Festival, taps into this creepiness while also addressing the (accurate) idea that violence against women almost always begins with words.
Dee (Serio) is a very popular ASMR video creator, with an established fanbase. She logs on, evidently after a hiatus due to a move across the country. She establishes that the move was to get away from a particularly nasty ex, and her fans are overjoyed to see her doing her ASMR thing again. Well, mostly. If you’ve ever put an essay, video, opinion, or piece of art out on the internet in a venue where comments are open, especially as a woman, you might be able to guess how things go for Dee.
The way that the comments scroll up the screen – cringeworthy catcalls and violent threats mixed in with fawning praise for Dee – while Dee tries to block out the worst of it while nurturing the positivity feels authentic to the way that discourse unfolds online. One disgusting comment gives way to another, and then the floodgates open until an obviously triggered Dee mutes everyone. The way that Serio uses this to play into the familiar horror trope of yelling at the protagonist to look behind her when she doesn’t sense visible danger lurking nearby, is something I’ve rarely seen but it works very well.
Serio has said that the inspiration for Tingle Monsters came from a Pacific Standard article called “Why Women Aren’t Welcome On The Internet” by Amanda Hess. It addresses the notion that just being online can be so traumatic and exhausting for women because they often can’t express themselves in any way without being objectified, much like marginalized people who can’t put themselves out there without being subjected to slurs or racism.
Projects like Serio’s Tingle Monsters are a reason why Final Girls and other festivals that specifically give women and non-binary filmmakers a platform are so important. There’s so much about this that feels like only a woman or female-identifying person could have written it. Like Isa Mazzei’s CAM, it has an authentic, well-informed voice in Serio that I can’t wait to hear more from, hopefully as a full feature, in the future.