Sometime in 2005, an Internet presence named “Al1” published a website that laid out a challenge: the maker had buried a large some of money somewhere in the U.K. If the website viewers followed an elaborate chain of clues, they would reveal where the money was hidden — and where it was available for the taking.
Though at first no one paid much attention, one YouTuber named Fortress did. He used his account to document his progress on Al1’s elaborate scavenger hunt, even going to Wales for one particular clue.
But then a body of a man is found in a Welsh field, and the treasure hunt becomes a murder investigation whose mystery only deepens as more information is revealed.
Written and directed by U.K.-based Adam Butcher, the short mystery drama “Internet Story” was a viral sensation when it was initially released in 2011, garnering millions of views from people who got hooked on the central mystery and the unnerving, uncanny atmosphere of the film and then wondered if the story itself was based on a real story. With its unconventional mix of live action, animation, narration and “found footage,” the film resembled a documentary, but the plot was full of tension and intensity — a combination that proved to be viral kismet.
Watching it seven years later, the film’s graphics and media references perhaps may be dated — no one really makes websites on Angelfire anymore — but it still stands on its superbly taut storytelling, exemplary puzzlebox structure and sharp intellect. Not only is the film a well-written and well-constructed murder mystery that will appeal to fans of the genre, but the questions posed by the film about media, truth and appearance still stand today, especially in the era of Facebook and “fake news.”
Butcher himself created the YouTube accounts, websites and “clues” that are strewn about in the film, but also included an end credits sequence that made clear the film’s fictional and constructed nature. Despite this, many upon the film’s initial release believed its story was real and went upon the film’s “treasure hunt” as well, gleefully falling down the rabbit hole that Butcher conjured.
Beyond the excellent, enduring quality storytelling, though, “Internet Story” still resonates for the reasons that propel people down their Internet rabbit holes in the first place. Despite the advances in technology, the changes in platform and the evolving glossy sheen of graphics, connected networks of users and knowledge are still a depot where those who are lonely, bored, disengaged and full of longing still gather, in hopes of an outlet.
Whether it’s in search of amusement, entertainment, delight or simply a stimulus for emotion, the Internet (and now social networks based on its technology) is still often the default destination, full of the eerie seduction so expertly recreated by “Internet Story.” But now that we live in a world absolutely saturated and perhaps dominated by connectivity, the stakes may be higher than ever — and the consequences perhaps even more dire.