There was time not too long ago (in the grand scheme of history, that is) where the Internet was a mysterious force. People were becoming aware of its many uses for discussion, research, and entertainment, but there was still a "are they out to get us?" paranoia about the technology. It's not uncommon for the later adapators of a new trend to be nervous about it. This holds especially true when the medium thrives on personal information. For this edition of Instant Watch, I'll be going through three early "the Internet is dangerous" thrillers to see if those initial trepidations still hold power over the viewing audience.
First up, we have Trap. This is a competently made thriller about the potential the Internet holds to plan crimes. Nicole is afraid to get out of her abusive marriage, where she isn't even able to leave the house for ten minutes without her husband tracking her down and dragging her back home. Through communications with online friend Amy, she makes the decision to kill her husband and venture off to Amy's big city apartment where they will escape to Mexico and live out the rest of their lives in anonymity and freedom. The only problem is that Amy is killed by her husband before Nicole shows up for also being an abusive spouse.
There is nothing particularly wrong with Trap as a film. The performances are good, if a bit hammy at times, and the use of the usually insufferable "blue means it's scary" filter is handled in a reasonable way. The only issue is that the film doesn't have enough narrative to sustain a feature length. The pacing crawls at times, acting like a flashback is an excuse to pad a very straight forward story into an almost ninety minute running time. What it feels like is an overly-long concept short used to sell a studio on actually producing the real feature length script. It's worth watching if you like noir-tinged thrillers, but otherwise, you're not missing much.
Four Boxes (2006)
Four Boxes is another slow-moving thriller about the fear of the Internet. In this one, long time friends and business partners Trevor and Rob scour the neighborhood for funerals. If no one shows up but them, they'll break into the deceased's house and sell off all his belongings on eBay. They find a streaming video website called Four Boxes that shows four parts of an apartment. A mysterious man is doing increasingly strange and criminal things and the friends decide to solve the mystery of where it's happening and who is involved.
Four Boxes is a complete non-starter. Forty minutes into the film, nothing has happened but petty human problems. Amber used to date one friend but is now engaged to the other. The old man they broke into the house of doesn't have any worthwhile belongings. Rob doesn't want to share his legos with Trevor because Trevor won't share his army men with Rob. Ok, that one doesn't happen in the film. But the film knows it doesn't have enough content to be a feature and just frontloads the picture with boring rich people problems until they have just enough time to tell the far more engaging story of the Four Boxes website. Except that story isn't too great, either. This is a morbid curiousity watch only.
The Card Player (2004)
Dario Argento hopped on the Internet bandwagon with his 2004 film The Card Player. This modern day giallo film tells the story of a serial killer streaming his latest crimes on the Internet. The twist is the detective investigating the case has developed a twisted relationship with the killer. She must play his game to find out any new information. If she loses, she is connected to the private Internet stream of the latest grusome murder. She teams up with a British detective to solve the case through the Internet.
The Card Player isn't as good as Argento's earlier films, but there is enough novel content to make it worth watching. The film is oozing with Argento's signature style and the performances are, as always, compelling. The only real problem is the conceit of the film doesn't hold up very well if you think about it too hard. So don't. Go for the ride and embrace style and novelty over substance. That's always the way it is with Argento's gialli and I doubt it will ever change.
Thoughts? Love to hear them.