Director: Rob Savage
Writers: Gemma Hurley, Rob Savage and Jed Shepard
Starring: Hailey Bishop, Gemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb, Radina Drandova, Caroline Ward
Editor: Brena Rangot
Streaming on: Amazon Prime Video
Given the recent increase in movies that are played entirely on screens, it was only a matter of time before global quarantine – and the resulting reliance on video conferencing applications – again reached out to directors to record on-screen. However, unlike the shiny thrillers Search (2018) and I’ll see you soon (2020), in which crime-plot conspiracies have become a showcase for the boundless wonders of technology, Leading is a sharp look at its limitations. Even its title, which flies between a verb and a noun, is a clever play on words – six friends get together to organize an online session, only to host a demonic ruler. Is the devil the technology? Anyone who has spent the past year visiting Zoom on a low-bandwidth Internet connection will find it difficult to disagree.
In the fast 56 minutes, Leading combines three worn-out subgenres in one film – found footage, a pandemic and possession – in a fiction that is surprisingly fresh. While paranormal activities make moments of real intimidation, the film also takes a moment to acknowledge current concerns. A momentary cough takes on the meaning of a loaded pistol, naturally for the world after Kovid. Jokes about parents who will not stay indoors reveal the main concerns about their mortality. Director Rob Savage avoids the fatigue of Covid’s luggage by handling these conversations with a light touch and shaping them into a tease between friends. This is a film that is content to simply observe the impact of life in lock, instead of making a big statement about it.
The supernatural horrors begin when Hailey (Hailey Bishop) and her friends inadvertently summon a demon during a Zoance session (which of us isn’t?). This is a fairly common trope, made to be watched by the group’s captivating performances as frightened young people. The early parts of the film fly repeatedly between the windows of Zoom, an effective period of time of their progression from irritation to a slowly conscious realization to terror. With no background result, any squeaks, bumps and scrapes are amplified and Savage uses them to great effect.
Technology is more of an enemy than a friend Leading. The Internet interrupts at a crucial moment, a harmless Zoom background pulls a cruel lure and switch, and a face filter is the basis of a heart-stopping leap. A cheeky pop-up that asks, “Are you running out of time?” Seems like a mockery of the terrorized group. Although connected through a video call, each friend is painfully alone in their own home, struggling with an invisible force that is everywhere at once. It is no coincidence that the only device that helps them get a clearer idea of the evil presence is the analog polaroid camera. Has Savage commented on how even modern technology cannot avoid crippling worries? He couldn’t have chosen a better time for that.