As a “prank,” a hacker finds the home address of a random person—usually a video game streamer, so that they can watch the drama unfold in real time. They call the police, putting on a character and often confessing to fictional crimes to convince the operator that something horrific is happening at the streamer’s home.
A few minutes later, a SWAT team shows up, bursting down doors, shouting at the streamer with weapons pointed. A product of the intersection between the cruelest fringes of online detachment and the militarization of police forces around the world, it’s a situation that would be absurd if it wasn’t so dangerous and utterly malicious.
Ismaël Joffroy Chandoutis captures that nightmarish quality in Swatted, an animated documentary that has racked up over 150 festival selections and 30+ awards since its release in 2018. It’s far from a conventional documentary. Instead of an assortment of talking heads describing the origins of the practice or pontificating on its implications, it alternates between scripted statements from victims of swattings, recordings of the 911 calls that encourage the incidents, and stream footage showing the moment the police arrive. The cycle repeats over and over through the film’s 20-minute run, each story unique in its details but familiar in ways that become increasingly unsettling—the seeming randomness of it, the almost blasé reactions that seem to say this is just what reality is now.
Instead of trying to recreate events, Chandoutis uses animation to create his unsettling atmosphere, building a backdrop of video game-style wireframes and letting them stack up in innumerable layers until the tangle of lines is almost completely indecipherable. Even when you can make out what’s happening, you’re often viewing the action from an impossible angle, or slowly drifting through environments like a ghost stuck between worlds.
As a result, nothing in those sequences is ever fully real, virtually or otherwise. Numbing the viewer with long, slow camera movements and mostly deadpan narration and jarring them with the chilling artificiality of the 911 calls, it’s a film that keeps you at a remove, and is all the more haunting for it.