The more you see the increasingly ubiquitous Snapchat logo, the less it registers as a ghost. It still looks like a playful cartoon ghoul every time, one that is actually named Ghostface Chillah, but its presence is so widespread it's easy to disregard the implication that this is an app meant to haunt you.
For the woman in Alex J. Mann's latest creepy short, though, it's not so easy.
3 Seconds centers on a woman who receives some unsolicited snaps in her bedroom in the dead of night. But it's a different social media horror story than the kind that begin this way for pretty much every woman who's ever so much as glanced at an iPhone—which certainly is its own separate nightmare. This one is closer in tone to the LA-based filmmaker's Green Dot, an unsettling short that unfolds entirely in a G-chat window. Just like its predecessor, the less viewers know about 3 Seconds going in, the better. All that's required is baseline familiarity with Snapchat and the underlying ick factor of social media altogether.
"What I like about Snapchat is also what scares me about it," Mann says. "Everything on the app exists for only a sliver in time. The low stakes lead to certain positive behaviors—people let their guards down compared to Instagram or Facebook—but they also might send things they wouldn't otherwise since they only last a moment."
The ephemeral nature of Snapchat proves to be just as fertile ground for scares as the blinking box at the bottom of a G-chat screen did in Green Dot. If the two seem connected, though, it's for a reason. Mann launched his production company, Space Oddity Films, with the aim of using it to mine these familiar spaces for their darker possibilities. Although we've become immune to the novelty of social media by now—at least until the next indispensable innovation comes along—there will never not be something chilling about the way disembodied voices and images can now reach out, unbidden, wherever you are at any time.
Until that next big breakthrough in social media does come along, the impermanence of Snapchat just might make it the most haunting of them all.
"Snaps are like ghosts—they're there, then they're not," Mann says. "You can never be completely sure of what you just saw."
Watch 3 Seconds in full below: