Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell
Plot: Blogger Nick (Wood) is given a code to hack into famous actress, Jill Goddard (Grey), from a stranger, who is manipulating Nick into a dangerous game of cat and mouse.
Just as the movie industry began getting bored of the found footage trope endlessly spammed by indie film-makers, in comes Nacho Vigalondo with a fresh idea that instantly makes the genre worth another chance. Rather than giving us the action through a shaky camcorder with an infuriatingly bland narrator, Vigalondo’s movie takes place entirely over the screen of a laptop. At first, it sounds like a nice idea, but one that would never work. You expect the director to give us exposition through the use of webcams and Youtube videos, but end up trapped by the confines of his narrative device. However, as the movie opens, it suddenly becomes apparent that there are far more clever tricks and cheats that the director has access to, in order to make his movie work. If the madcap story that occasionally suspends belief doesn’t work for you, you have to lean back and appreciate the monumental task that Vigalondo attempts here. It keeps offering little tricks that keep what could be a rather stale experience always feel cutting edge and fresh. Perhaps Vigalondo’s best trick is that he keeps the movie going down a road where you almost expect it to be seconds from turning rather awful or perhaps a little dull. The mock movie opening with terrible acting and cheesy plot developments. A couple of minutes spent with a vacant face by a laptop, jokingly confirming everything we feared about this movie. However, before long the action explodes, around the twenty minute mark, and we get a nail-biting thriller, far better than what we were expecting. Don’t let the poor reviews fool you: if you are willing to try something new, Open Windows is a great, little movie.
I loved how it played around with the morality of the internet as well. Other than one slightly over-dramatic plot development, where the bad guy uses a views counter on a black market website to determine whether his victim lives or dies, ripped straight out of a horror movie bargain bucket, the discussion is done very subtly. To get the story kicked off, the lead hero, Nick, has to wander into murky waters, in terms of whether he is a good guy or a bad guy. When diva actress, Jill Goddard, cancels a dinner Nick won in an online competition, a mysterious guy claiming to be a part of her agent’s team, gives him a code that allows him to hack into her laptop and phone, essentially giving him the power to spy on her all night. It becomes very clear what Nick is hoping will happen, especially when a secret lover turns up at Jill’s house that night. However, it doesn’t really make Nick inherently nasty a hero, as the director highlights how easy it is to be casually malicious and selfish, when browsing the internet, safe in your private room. Nick probably sees nothing creepy about screen-capping Jill Goddard constantly throughout her interviews and movies, but seeing as this is our first introduction to the character, it comes across as skin-crawling and intrusive. But then we begin asking ourselves, how is this any different from watching pornography? From looking over a friend of a friend’s Facebook profile out of spur-of-the-moment curiosity? Criticising a stranger’s performance in a movie review? Nick grows out of that initial perverted spotlight, because it becomes clear that the internet is that dark seed of doubt that creates this scenarios. The voyeuristic nature of the internet is utilised terrifically later on in an intensely disturbing scene, where Nick’s curiosity is used against him. He gets Jill in a position where she has to do whatever he wants her to and she has to answer, yet at the same time Nick has a metaphorical gun to his head, forcing him to make her uncomfortable on purpose. I won’t spoil the set-up of the scene, but it rivals Saw for that stomach-turning dread with the added bonus that the gore factor is subtle and psychological, rather than in your face. As the scene plays out, you have no idea where the line is, or if the movie even has one!
I also appreciated that the performances were on fine form here. With found footage, sometimes great performances go under the radar, because there is no emphasis on them. Kathryn Newton was terrific in the fourth Paranormal Activity, but the script never gave her an easy chance to show that. Vigalondo allows his actors time to shine. Elijah Wood is still carving out a name for himself as the actor who can play reliable creeps and unlikely heroes. Perhaps his performance is held back by the fact it is about time he tried his hand at something else. Neil Maskell is worth complimenting to, seeing as he is asked to be little more than a voice than gives out exposition, yet makes his stranger compelling. However, it is Sasha Grey that impressed me the most. She is the victim of the story, the stuck-up celebrity that is unwittingly the pawn of everyone else in the story. The other characters are constantly telling us who she is, behind her Hollywood career. Neil Maskell reveals her to be a stuck-up high maintenance diva. The news reports that pop up in the corner of Nick’s laptop screen show rumours of affairs and scandals. A leaked sex tape is suggested to be floating around the internet somewhere. In fact, it is almost as if Vigalondo wants to start off his movie by making out Jill Goddard to be some unlikeable woman, as if Nick’s voyeurism is meant to be some form of justice being dished out for actresses who are too big for their boots. However, whenever Sasha Grey gets some screen time to act with, we do not see a nasty piece of work. We see a girl tired of being judged and scrutinised by the media. It is no accident that Sasha Grey, a porn star, was cast in the role. It makes her character’s exhaustion at being the target of people from behind a laptop screen all the more powerful. In fact, after a while, when the hacker plotline becomes a little bit too far-fetched, she almost becomes the most likeable character, seeing as she has nothing to do with computers or surveillance cameras. She is just an actress who is tired of being judged. It adds a beating heart to this thriller and definitely helps the final product.
Final Verdict: One of the better found footage movies out there, always thrilling and with a few disturbing messages buried inside the story.