Monday, November 16, 2015

Skyping For Sociopaths

Another day in the 21st century, another found footage horror film on Instant Watch.

This is how we live now.

Quick Plot: Elizabeth is an enterprising young lady attempting to get a research grant that will allow her to spend more time on "The Den," a video chat website that lets you talk to other users across the world. In between adorable stuffed animal penis performances and the occasional decent conversation, Elizabeth stumbles upon the profile of a seemingly normal teenage girl who very quickly begins asking some unusual questions.

It doesn't take long for Elizabeth's new pal--or whoever might be manipulating the profile--to infiltrate her computer, capturing a steamy evening with her and her boyfriend and sharing the video with Elizabeth's professional connections. Things get worse when Elizabeth enters The Den to discover her normal teenage girl pal tied up and murdered right on camera.

Naturally, it's a hard crime to sell to local policemen. Even Elizabeth's boyfriend and programmer friend believe it to be a well-executed prank. We as the audience know better once Elizabeth's computer sends another friend a message to come over, only to have Elizabeth follow up with a visit that reveals her friend to be dying in a bath of her own blood.

As horror fans, we've all probably seen A LOT of found footage indies, some of which have relied as much on Skype-based conversations as they have the dreaded shaky cam. Much like the similarly toned (and very underrated) Megan Is Missing, The Den mixes up the point of view by primarily taking place primarily inside Elizabeth’s computer, sort of like that recent Modern Family episode.

Such a decision could have yielded a very annoying movie, but thankfully, director Zachary Donohue manages to keep The Den’s pacing and mystery strong throughout its fairly brief running time. Lead actress Melanie Papalia is also quite natural and makes you genuinely care about her fate. This is a dark film with more than a dose of nihilism at its core, one that could have ultimately felt nasty and unpleasant if mishandled. It’s vital that Donohue treats his material with weight. Once the real danger becomes apparent, The Den never toys with making light of just how terrible and sad its world really is.

High Points
As Elizabeth, Melanie Papalia is instantly likable and worth rooting for. Found footage video cam horror can't be an easy acting job, but Papalia keeps you on her side throughout the film. It helps that the film actually lets her make pretty smart decisions and impressive self defense instincts as things escalate 

Low Points
...perhaps save for the initial “look lady, you’re putting yourself out there in a world filled with bonafide weirdos. You might want to be a tad more careful 

Lessons Learned
The Internet is filled with people that really like boobs

Never give the boyfriend that you're not that into the password to your computer

Did Strangeland teach us nothing other than nobody really wants to see Dee Snider’s nipple rings? Seriously people, stay out of chat rooms. We should have learned that in the ‘90s


Now streaming on Instant Watch, The Den is a fairly effective little sliver of found footage horror. It’s not necessarily the best of its subgenre, but I found it to be involving and disturbing. Most importantly, the fact that its lead character puts up such a good fight makes it a little more notable than many of its peers. I wouldn’t want a sequel to this particular film, but I eagerly look forward to what director Donohue does next.

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