As a millennial who eats up repurposed memes like last night’s cold pizza, I might’ve been a bit too excited about a movie digging up a 5-year-old Twitter thread about an allegedly real haunting. And considering just how amazingly Zola fared, there wasn’t a tinge of cynicism in me about an internet thread getting adapted for the fans of real-life horror tropes. Now, I don’t know how the real Adam Ellis feels about the way his story’s been told in John McPhail’s (would it be too mean to think about a pun here?) Dear David. But if you ask me, just like those posts and texts we type up only to press delete instead, this unimaginably uninspired tale of a BuzzFeed artist and his not-so-friendly little boy ghost shouldn’t even have made it to the archives. You might still have a bunch of unanswered questions about the way the wicked haunting unfolded. Well, since you’re already here, let’s take a stroll down the Dear David lane.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
What could a little boy being bullied on the 1996 internet have to do with a BuzzFeed writer and artist getting schooled on his lack of relatability and a scarcity of sad-clown content by his boss? It turns out—a lot, actually. There’s a lot going on in Adam’s life. And while his obnoxious fear of commitment and the severe deficit in his content’s reach aren’t really connected, these aren’t really making Adam’s life much easier. With the vicious kindling of online trolls thrown in, the fire only grows to engulf Adam as he goes down the rabbit hole of shooing off his bullies with his DIAFs and lame one-liners. Giving a cold shoulder to his friend and colleague Evelyn’s advice against entertaining online trolls and taking his boyfriend Kyle’s long-suffering affection for granted, what Adam invites with his self-destructive obsession is the rabid spirit of David—yes, the boy we saw in the opening sequence. What follows is a rapidly escalating case of haunting that leaves Adam a wretched mess as he documents his bizarre encounters on his Twitter thread.
Do People Around Adam Believe Him?
Having a thread faithfully documenting the eerie incidents at Adam’s apartment is a sure-shot way to sky-rocket his reach and online following. And this newfound potential doesn’t elude Bryce, who’s so consumed with his employee’s buzzing fame that he doesn’t even consider that Adam’s actually going through something. What starts as a spontaneously moving chair in the corner of his room quickly takes on the horrifying shape of David visiting Adam in his sleep paralysis. And these aren’t particularly friendly visits, either. The understandable yowling of his poor cats, which alerts Adam to a menacing presence in his room, is not enough to prepare him for the recurrent bouts of torment he undergoes. While Evelyn is as sensible as she can afford to be about her friend’s paranoia, she can’t really get herself to believe that the ghost of a dead child is haunting Adam. And Kyle? Well, part of the blame for him steering clear of this mess is definitely on Adam.
Is David Trying To Hurt Adam?
Adam may not be privy to just how ghoulish David’s wrath can get, but we’ve seen how viciously the little boy’s ghost murdered a kid who made the grave mistake of bullying him online. It doesn’t take Adam long to realize that the ghostly boy with a half-crushed skull is actually not even close to loosening his grip on him. With his recurrent episodes of sleep paralysis getting out of hand, Adam is increasingly sleep-deprived. And with his REM screwed up beyond imagination, you can imagine just how difficult it would be for Adam to know what’s real and what’s not. And just as soon as the haunting spirals out of control and takes a violent form, Adam finds himself in the kind of danger that he never could’ve imagined himself facing. Not only does he get tormented in ways that transcend the psychological and start leaving traces on his body, but he’s also repeatedly dragged into the ghostly realm where David’s at his strongest. Even changing apartments does nothing to save him from helplessly watching David and his father’s gruesome deaths unfold. While it’s not all that unusual for vengeful spirits to play mind games with their victims, David does take it up a notch by manipulating Adam into thinking that he’d be safe if he asked him just two questions. But even spirits grow impatient, and it’s not long before David’s desperation to push Adam into asking the third fatal question becomes obvious.
Does David Possess Adam?
The thing about Dear David is that it’s what you’d get if you’d handed all the right ingredients to someone who couldn’t cook if their life depended on it. There are numerous tropes, for sure. But it’s baffling how the quarter-hearted narrative couldn’t even be trope-y in the right ways. I mean, why it would miss out on spending a little more effort on sending out a fatigued but still relevant message about the vapidity of social media reach and the ever-churning machine of content creation is beyond my understanding. Justin Long’s convincing wickedness is so hopelessly wasted in Dear David that even Bryce’s void of empathy and tone-deaf “you’re fine” don’t really hit the right notes.
What does somewhat work out is how Dear David communicates just how lonely it can get for someone surrounded by people yet completely invisible and dismissed. And if you consider Adam’s workplace breakdown as a subtle jab at corporate culture, which deems the issue of mental health more of an inconvenience than something to handle with general human decency, you’d see that Dear David has at least attempted to get meta with its subtexts. Who does a person like Adam turn to when all ends fail and no one’s kind enough to lend an ear? A medium, of course. But she doesn’t really offer any insight that is especially insightful to us or even Adam. The fact is, Adam can’t really run from a spirit that’s latched on to him. His first break in his search for information regarding who David even is comes from someone you’d immediately consider unreliable. I mean, what’s an internet paranormal investigator? And how is she so quick to connect the dots that would logically take someone a few days of research to do? But at least with her help, Adam’s enlightened to the morbid existence of a certain Loopy Linda. It happens to be the same woman he’d seen and spoken to when David took him over to the other side.
It’s possible that Linda was schizophrenic and killed her husband and son in a fit of paranoid fear. But that’s not even the biggest piece of the puzzle that Adam’s been looking for. You see, David’s the same boy who woke up from a trauma-induced coma after 21 long years—the trending news that, ironically enough, BuzzFeed was dying to get a piece of. You might be wondering how a person who’s alive gets his adolescent self to haunt an online bully. That’s because the adult David died only a few days after waking up from a coma that his mother had put him in. Now, considering just how malicious David’s spirit is, maybe his mother did see the devil in him and did what she had to. Or it might also be possible that David’s father was a bully whom he’d killed only for his mother to put him in a coma, and that’s turned him into a vengeful spirit. But if you take David’s spirit haunting and eventually leading Linda’s psychiatrist into taking her own life into account, it seems more likely that there was something evil about him even as a child. It’s not that he hasn’t scoured Hell’s darkest chambers to strategize just the right ways to isolate and weaken Adam, but the man’s been putting up a worthy fight.
Even though David’s manipulated his texts, voicemails, and apps into pushing away the only two people who care about him, Adam doesn’t give up. He’s been feeling weak for far too long. And he knows that to stand up against a bully, even if it is an all-powerful spirit, he’d need to take control back. The choice weapon of any spirit this diabolical is its victim’s most innate insecurities. And you can imagine how many of those someone like Adam would have. Starting from his commitment phobia to his insane amount of discomfort ever communicating anything remotely vulnerable, David has jotted down all of Adam’s insecurities to torment him into giving up. But the people who really care don’t just abandon someone at the time of their need, no matter how difficult the person makes it for them to hold on to their patience. So even though David’s nasty spirit has contrived something as convoluted as a haunted video game to burn Adam to death, it’s the voices of his loved ones and the knowledge that he’s not alone that give Adam the strength to fight back. But I’m afraid the only silver lining in the climax is the fact that Adam’s fluffy little pets survive the fire.
From the looks of it, even though Adam’s life wasn’t lost in the fight, David did get hold of his body. And considering the violent death of the appalling streamer who made the fatal mistake of taking his three-question threat lightly, David will go on to ruthlessly torment everyone who’ll ever be mean on the internet. But this time around, David’s nefarious schemes are also going to harm at least two innocent people. Adam’s never been one to open up about his feelings. What Kyle would consider a sign of Adam’s emotional growth would be the spirit’s conniving manipulations. Puppeteering Adam’s body, the spirit of David is now far more powerful than he was when he didn’t have a tangible vessel. Dear David‘s ending does suggest the possibility of a sequel. And while the lingering wrath of a half-headed ghost might get better treatment in the future, if you ask me, David’s legacy should end here. While Dear David has seemingly reluctantly tried to communicate the perils of internet trolling, bullying, and the futile pursuit of originality of content, all it’s managed is, ironically enough, something children would put together in a school play. Who knows, they might even end up doing a better job.
Is Adam Ellis’ Twitter Thread Real?
The real Adam Ellis, the BuzzFeed illustrator played in the film by Augustus Prew, did start keeping record of a series of bone-chilling supernatural encounters on his Twitter account. In August 2017, Adam Ellis made the brave and terrified declaration on his Twitter account that his apartment had become home to the spirit of a dead child. What followed was a thread of tweets, documenting the rapidly worsening case of haunting that he found himself in. While any ghost story on the internet is advised to be taken with a grain of salt, Adam Ellis’ encounters with the creepy ghost of a child in his room did create a buzz of terror amidst the Twitter crowd that religiously followed it. For an internet horror thread to claim to be real and hold millions of people’s attention for at least a year, it’d have to be something convincing.
The haunting was allegedly not limited to the excruciating nights of restless sleep and sleep paralysis for Adam. The former BuzzFeed employee had even gone the distance and included photographs, audio recordings, and digital footage of the haunting that had started out of nowhere. What Adam Ellis chronicled with his countless tweets was his first brush and his interactions with the little boy ghost who went by the name of David. While it might not have unfolded as it did in the film, Adam’s blood-curdling experience with a ghost did escalate to the point of acute fear. I’d leave it up to you to look up the thread and decide for yourself if you believe in Adam’s claim of it being a real haunting or not.