Saturday, 22 November 2014

Bonus Review: The Den (2013)

Another horror movie based around the dangers of interacting with anonymous strangers online, The Den often feels comparable to the majorly flawed Megan Is Missing, but it does just enough to be a better movie. Essentially, this is a film more intent on creating thrills and scares than anything too believable. Taken in that way, it works well enough.

Melanie Papalia plays Elizabeth Benton, a young woman who is doing a study on the various habits of people who use webcams. This means that she spends a lot of her time on a website called "The Den" (which is chatroulette in all but name, from what I can gather). Unfortunately, this leads to her computer being hacked as she's targeted by someone with a sinister, and deadly, agenda.

Directed by Zachary Donohue, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Lauren Thompson, The Den is twisted, sometimes-tense, entertainment. And there are numerous moments that definitely remind you of why you (me, everybody, everybody) should be cautious about who we talk to online, and how relatively unguarded we can leave our computers. How many of you have a laptop that stays on 24/7 nowadays, with the exception of restarts needed to install updates? And how many of those laptops have a webcam, a small portal into your world, for the wrong person with the right skills?

Papalia (who has a solid, if unspectacular, filmography to her credit) does a decent job in the main role, mostly reacting to what she sees online. It's not the most complex performance, that's not what's needed here, but she's believable enough, even as she starts to piece everything together and become afraid for her safety. David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Anna Margaret Hollyman, and Saidah Arrika Ekulona are all fine as the various "real" people that Papalia talks to both online and off. Matt Riedy is the police sergeant who tries to help, despite having very little to go on. It's also worth mentioning the fleeting, but memorable, cameo from Bill Oberst Jr. Fans will enjoy seeing him appear onscreen in a moment that's both creepy and hilarious at the same time.

Where The Den falls down is where so many of these movies fall down. It is, in case the previous paragraphs didn't make it clear, basically a "found footage" kinda movie. And there are many times when it all makes sense, especially when everything is shown through the main webcam. But it just doesn't feel right when people constantly make videocalls, for example, instead of just using audio.

The other main problem that the film has is the way everything falls apart in the second half. As the horror element becomes stronger, any sense of believability is soon thrown out the window. Believability doesn't ever have to be the main priority in a horror movie, of course, but it's never good when things occur that start to make viewers question how things are playing out.

Worth a watch, and plenty of people have enjoyed it more than I did, but it's also unsurprising, highly derivative, and lacking in logic.


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