Tuesday, October 25, 2016

In short: The Den (2013)

Thanks to a not too clearly defined grant to study the habits of the users of web cam chat site Chat Roulette The Den, Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) is spending most of her time glued to the screen, recording her interactions and seeing way too many unasked for male genitalia. Things become outright dangerous to more than just her sanity when she repeatedly encounters a chat partner apparently without a working webcam or microphone. After some mildly puzzling and slightly weird interactions, the mystery person shows Elizabeth a video of the murder of a woman – and it doesn’t look fake.

Elizabeth calls in the police, but the gentlemen are less than helpful, and become even less so when Elizabeth herself becomes increasingly more directly threatened: someone hacks into her computer and shoots footage of her and her boyfriend having sex he then sends to her university, and soon after that, her boyfriend disappears, while her other loved become increasingly short-lived in attacks that let the usual internet lynch mob look like a fun time in comparison.

Zachary Donohue’s The Den is quite a bit better a movie than I expected going in. The film is shot in a POV horror format that mostly takes place via Elizabeth’s computer screen but later on, when that conceit just wouldn’t work anymore Donohue uses other somewhat more typical found footage styles – surprisingly enough in a way that actually makes sense as part of the film’s plot, so this isn’t Open Windows (fortunately). This time around, even the dire question of “how would a movie using this type of actual footage ever be made?” is answered, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into.

Not that this sort of question is one I usually care too much about in my POV horror films – if I can buy into the idea of ghosts and ghoulies and the witch of Blair I certainly can buy into people who just keep filming and theatrical features consisting exclusively of horrifying last footage of actual people dying – but this amount of care is typical for the rest of Donohue’s film too. Unlike your generic POV horror film, this is a tightly plotted affair that uses what amounts to a novelty set-up to build an intense and nasty little thrill ride, and that manages to create suspense specifically out of this set-up and its technical and dramatic challenges. It’s pretty fantastic, and the resulting film is as exciting as it is creepy.

The Den is also a rather dark – in the way that some of the best 70s horror films were dark – movie that uses a sensationalized version of contemporary fears to give its audience a really good/bad time. It doesn’t happen too often to me anymore, but this one actually got to me on more than just a surface level, producing a feeling of disturbance a film can get out of me when it is ruthless without seeming in love with its own darkness.

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