Originally published in AMP Magazine at UT Dallas on 5 Nov. 2018.
Don’t let it be said that we lack investigative skills. In the pursuit of Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life, a Lifetime original from 2005, we dove deep into the troves of the internet. After thirty tabs, two windows, one fake Virginia address, and a torrent that downloaded zero bytes in a whole hour, we finally found the holy grail of made-for-TV activist cinema uploaded in parts on Dailymotion and YouTube. Rediscovering our old anime watching habits from 2008, we finally took in the film that had haunted us for months. Months! And it was as much of a trip as we expected.
With a screenplay by two men whose specialties were 80’s B-list horror movies and Hallmark Channel Christmas originals, Cyber Seduction had some major promise. Centered on 16-year old Justin Petersen, the film starts in media res with Justin jumping into a pool, beaten, bloodied, and fully-clothed. For the desperately needed answers, we jump three months into the past, where, after winning a swim competition, Justin gratuitously makes out with his girlfriend Amy and gets invited to a party thrown by the cool kids. How could it go so wrong for this studly high school Chad with a bright future at “some college,” according to his mother? That old bugaboo, internet pornography!
Like all good mid-aughts straight boys, the après-meet shindig consists of all the boys and their girlfriends sipping beers and watching porn on the alpha swimmer’s den TV that’s hooked up to his family computer. That kind of technical prowess is honestly somewhat admirable back in 2005, but sadly, every character in this film lacks that same skill when it comes to socializing. Later that night, Justin’s friend “Stroke man” sends him a link to a page where Monica, one of their classmates and the school floozy, cams. While one would think that her lazy cinematography and outfit choices that would only be provocative in a seminary would limit her appeal, Justin gets hooked. And without any visual representation of self-gratification, he just stares at her pictures and videos, sending Justin down the rabbit hole.
Of course, his mother’s parental instincts kick in during the middle of the night, and she catches her son browsing salacious sites with his door open, which is just another oversight on his part. After catching him in the act of just staring at a screen, she wakes up her husband and begs him to talk to their son the next day, which he does, even though he sees it as a non-issue. The real issue at hand is clearly the fact that Justin is traipsing into volcel territory by not ever getting off, but no one seems to be concerned about that.
Predictably, Justin develops an addiction to porn, and it drives him to ruin his life. Because this movie — with its clearly trustworthy production crew, whose film highlights include gems like 1994’s The Android Affair and 2018’s The Lover in the Attic — does the absolute minimum to portray Justin as anything other than a prototype of the population of the alt-right today, complete with a host of self-created issues. He does things like pressure his Christian girlfriend into giving each other tonsillectomies with their tongues, show his friend latex bondage porn in the middle of playing GTA, and access porn at an “internet café,” which seemingly consists of a jacked school computer lab desktop in the back of a hardware store.
Unlike Justin, the movie climaxes when, after meeting with Monica to finally achieve release, he backs out and gets chased out of Monica’s house for turning down her advances. She decides that he needs to be framed, for some reason, and then proceeds to beat herself and tell the alpha swimmer that Justin raped her. Meanwhile, after ruining his parents’ credit to pay for porn, Justin (the madman) nearly fights his father, and realizes the errant nature of his porn-addled lifestyle. But sadly for our protagonist, his atonement comes too late, and after trying and failing to reconcile with Amy — who says that she never wants to speak to him again and that she’s always ready to talk to him if he needs it in the same breath — gets jumped by his former lads and beaten up behind the pool.
And in the pinnacle of screenwriting brilliance, we’re back at the opening scene, where Justin throws himself into the pool. As the life drains from his lungs, he looks back at the happy moments he had before his life of moderate debauchery, before his life consisted of driving his younger brother to create porn CD-Rs labeled “Virgin Vaginas,” getting called “Kinkyyyy the Clown” in the locker room, and messaging random cam girls to tell them “you’r sooooooo awesome! [sic]”. Those memories of a past life prompt him to resurface, and in the most obvious baptizing metaphor this side of Sunday school, Justin resolves to fix his life, as the screen fades to blue and we’re left with this hot mess of a film.Starring Jeremy Sumpter as Justin, who apparently walked so Zac Efron could run two years later in 2007’s High School Musical, and Kelly Lynch as Diane Petersen, who gives a PSA about teenage porn addiction as an epilogue, Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life is an exercise in Lifetime’s unique ability to create a cast of totally unsympathetic characters. From Proud Boy Justin, to his dopey Christian-lite parents, his teammates straight out of Michele Bachman’s nightmares, and ultimately Monica, camming for extra dosh while living in her parents’ mansion, there isn’t a single person we supported in this whole film. It truly has to be seen to be believed. The absolutely surreal nature of the film, in more capable hands than those of director Tom McLoughlin, would probably burn up the indie circuit with better cinematography and a soundtrack that went further than blatant ripoffs of Green Day and Linkin Park. Sadly, as it stands, Cyber Seduction will be left to rot in the very web it dramatizes, only existing in the HTML of vaguely misogynist blog reviews and AMVs made by Sumpter fangirls set to “Creep.” It’s a true shame, and we here at AMP are determined to not let that happen. By shedding a light on this story, so in need of a revamp, we hope that one of you dear readers will be driven to give Justin and the rest of Cyber Seduction the depiction it deserves.