Review: Rihaction (2019) by Neil Young

It takes more than a plain interest in experimental films to go to see Rihaction, a debut feature-length film by the British film critic, curator and programmer Neil Young. Stretching over 108 minutes, it is an unusually long take on the phenomena of exposure on the social media and the yearning for fame, likes and followers. Fully consisting of 37 clips by YouTubers that uploaded their reaction videos on Tom Holland’s performance of Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’ on the American TV show The Lip Sync Battle, the film requires patience from its viewers, at least in terms of coping with its “Groundhog Day” effect.  Admittedly entertaining, Holland’s performance is shown in its full length all 37 times, as a coulisse to his commentators who have their own peculiar ways in reacting to it. Young has deliberately chosen all of the existing reaction videos, not counting the one that appeared almost two years after the above-mentioned Lip Sync Battle episode, shortly after the film was completed. The director is very clear about this decision – the clips were short enough to fit into a feature film, and to discriminate one or the other wouldn’t make much sense. The clips were edited in such a way that the core – the performance itself – was left untouched, with only bits being taken away from the beginning or the end of each one of them.

Ibukola. Still from her YouTube reaction video

Blending in the red and blue screens between each of the clips was supposed to be a reference to Tom Holland’s role as Spiderman, and at the same time director’s wish to get away from the classical black screen with white titles. Rihaction can be regarded as social commentary that leaves viewers with their own opinions on the popular trend on YouTube. The way in which clips succeed each other builds an interesting dynamic, starting with the only full-length video by a popular YouTuber Ibukola, and slowly building up a certain tempo that culminates at the end, with five videos that the director himself calls “rewarding”. The budget of this experimental film was only 30€, which were the total costs of the internet café use in Vienna, the only European capital in which such places still survive.

Rihaction was in the competition program (as part of the “Innovative Cinema” section) of the Diagonale and its future in the festival circuit is not known yet.

Director: Neil Young
Script: Neil Young
Country: Austria
Editing: Neil Young, Dominik Sobolewski
Producer: Neil Young
Production: Neil Young