8 Films on the Dangers of the Internet

As Arrow releases the Blu-ray of .com For Murder, an internet based thriller that is somewhere between Demon Seed and Copycat, we take a look at some of the best movies that warn us about the dangers of letting yourself loose on the internet. Taking the form of many genres and beginning as soon as the idea of phoning in to another computer was born, these films address the fundamental fears we experience when we let someone into our personal domain.

Wargames (1983)

“Greetings Professor Falken, would you like to play a game?”

This iconic 80s teen thriller stars Matthew Broderick as David Lightman. A confident, cheeky and earnest hacker who is determined to dial in to a computer system to play the newest generation of games. This is a system that learns from its mistakes. Dubbed Joshua by it’s creator, Professor Falken (John Wood) it inadvertently begins the countdown to World War Three, when David asks to play ‘Global Thermonuclear War’.

Not just a movie about hacking, but also about grief, the red threat, and the dangers of replacing humans with artificial intelligence. It’s a classic that escalates beautifully to it’s heart-warming but suspenseful finale.

Searching (2018)

Stylistically original, Searching tells it’s story entirely within the confines of laptop screens. David Kim (John Cho) and his daughter Margot (Michelle La) are living almost entirely separate lives after the death of their wife and mother. David is confronted by this when Margot goes missing, realising how much he doesn’t know about his daughter. He has to find his way around her social media accounts, slowly revealing a life Margot has been living online, with secret friendships and hidden relationships. With limited parental guidance, she has been naïve and vulnerable, and David has to find out which of these internet strangers could be responsible for his daughters disappearance.

Pulse (2001)

Sitting confidently among other J-horrors of the late 90s and early 00s, Pulse takes the viral ghost from Ring and makes it literal and modern. Going viral before that was a thing, and combining uncanny digital imagery with those creepy, crawling, slow moving ghosts we associate with East Asian horror. While many of us are aware of the advantages of the unlimited access to information, Pulse warns of the risks. The inability to distance yourself from the horrors and influence of a constant stream of information curated by algorithms to nurture an emotional response. The Pulse of the title, compels those who come in contact with it to kill themselves. Considering the dangerous viral trends of recent years, it feels more relevant than ever.

Catfish (2010)

A documentary that spawned not just a spin off TV series but a new term. When Nev, a photographer, is sent an image of a painting of one of his photographs, he strikes up a friendship with not just the artist, 8 year old Abby, but her entire family. Including a long distance more romantic relationship with Abby’s older sister Megan.
As he learns more about them, cracks begin to form in the images they present of themselves. The songs Megan sends him are taken from YouTube. Abby’s apparent artwork is also stolen. They have created an entirely false identity for themselves online for no reason other than to deceive Nev. There doesn’t appear to be a financial motive, it’s all fraud for the sake of fraud.

A fascinating look at how easy it is to create falsehoods online, Catfish acts as a warning to any of us who believe everything we read.

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Aubrey Plaza is at her kooky and unsettling best in this dark comedy. Ingrid is a social media addict, spending her days scrolling Instagram and liking and liking and liking… particularly images of her favourite influencer, Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). The obsession escalates, with Ingrid moving to be closer to Taylor, and ingratiating herself into Taylor’s life and social circle. As the awkward plot escalates, Ingrid self destructs further in her attempts to replicate the love and attention she sees lavished on Taylor’s fantastical online life.

Perhaps most creepily or funnily, depending on your point of view; for the film’s premiere Aubrey Plaza showed up wearing a an outfit that almost exactly mirrored Olsen’s. Something perhaps only someone like Plaza could carry off, and have us all wondering if it was planned by both of them or just Plaza.

Host (2020)

Made during some of the first Covid lockdowns in 2020, Host takes place entirely on screens in the confines of a Zoom call. It emphasises the actual connections that can be created by virtual communication, while most films of this type focus on the dangers of anonymity. A group of friends, unaware of the extent of the ‘circle’ created by their internet séance, inadvertently summon a demon that is determined to take them out one by one. The strength of Host is just how scary it is, the characters are ultimately quite unlikeable, so it’s hard to care that they’re getting terrorised. However, the familiarity of the format, especially for how and when it was made, brings the story into your home in a way that genuinely terrifies. The format is managed masterfully, adding a new style to the now common ‘found footage’ genre.

Hard Candy (2005)

This breakout role for Elliot Page has him as 14-year-old Hayley. Groomed online by Patrick Wilson’s Jeff, Hayley agrees to meet him and return to his home to model for him. What Jeff doesn’t anticipate, is who was actually doing the grooming. Hayley proceeds to drug Jeff and punish him for his repeated manipulation and rape of young girls.
A shocking and violent exploration of revenge, Hard Candy addresses the risks of online friendships but in a way that fully empowers the potential victim. Elliot Page is a brilliant combination of petite and unassuming whilst determined and terrifying, and Patrick Wilson fully leans into that slightly creepy air he has even when he’s playing apparently “nice guys”.

Copycat (1995)

Perhaps not so obviously about the internet itself as many other films on this list, Copycat suggests that even when you lock yourself away, technology provides those you are afraid of with a way in. Sigourney Weaver stars as Helen Hudson, an expert on serial killers who suffers a terrifying attack after one of her lectures. This attack leaves her severely agoraphobic, but two Detective Inspectors, played by Dermot Mulroney and Holly Hunter, attempt to bring in her expertise on a new murderer who seems unlike anything they have seen before.
It emerges that the killer is mimicking those mentioned in Hudson’s lecture, in the order she spoke about them, and seems to have a wider plot than simply killing. As Hudson’s home becomes more unsafe she is forced to drag herself away from her computer and face her fears head on. The safety net she has created in her home is an illusion, and there is always a way inside.

Erika Bean

Erika Bean

Writer and expert

In between editing at Filmhounds, and chatting with fellow podcasters on FILM &, Mondo Moviehouse and Video Capes; Erika likes arguing on the beach, long walks on the internet, intersectional feminism and neurodiversity.