– Summary –
Director : Nacho Vigalondo
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell, Nacho Vigalonda, Ivan Gonzalez, Scott Weinberg, Trevante Rhodes.
Approx Running Time : 100 Minutes
Synopsis: A web-obsessed fanboy and the female object of his fascination are driven to desperate measures by an omniscient, and malevolent, voice commanding them to do horrible things.
What we think : An interesting premise unravels faster than trying to stop internet piracy, as Open Windows’ web-based scenario becomes a series of convoluted, incomprehensible, ridiculously insane plot twists that lack motivation, lack a sense of threat, and ultimately, lack cohesion. Open Windows is like a popup that you can’t close. Reboot the machine and start again.
Outside of his career as a hobbit for Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood has made some interesting career choices. Grand Piano, as well as Sin City, Maniac, Bobby, and the voice of Mumble in the Happy Feet franchise, have given Wood an oeuvre to be considerably more intellectual than stuff like Deep Impact, The Faculty and Flipper. No doubt the script for Open Windows wet Wood’s whistle for another ballpark-knocking venture into obscure, avante guarde film-making, and I guess as an outside observer the premise would have snagged my attention as well, but it’s just a shame that Open Windows is as silly as it turns out, because it’s in no way Wood’s fault. It’s a “found footage” film of sorts, told entirely through the vision of Wood’s character’s computer monitor, which, aside from having the ability to display a gazillion windows at once, also has some truly dynamite connection capacity. Wood, together with former porn starlet Sasha Grey (who, if I’m spoiling this review a little, actually isn’t that bad an actress, all things considered) and the voice of Neil Maskell (imagine a British version of the Scream franchise’s iconic phone voice) deliver some nice performances, but can’t elevate the material, which I’m sad to say spends more time being stupid and making all kinds of wrong decisions, than it does eliciting fear, thrills or tension.
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: When Nick (Elijah Wood) discovers that he’s won a dinner date with his favorite star Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey), he’s incredibly excited to finally get the chance to meet her. That excitement deflates when Jill refuses to honor the contest and all of Nick’s hopes are dashed. He’s intrigued when Chord (Neil Maskell), a man claiming to be Jill’s campaign manager, offers him something he can’t quite refuse: Chord will give Nick the ability to constantly view Jill via computer. Nick is initially reluctant but Chord persuades him by saying that he should get at least some entertainment out of the actress. However, Nick is unaware that this decision will put himself and Jill at risk. As his perverse intrusion into Jill’s life increases, Nick soon becomes aware than Chord has evil, horrific intentions for Jill, and, using Nick as his guinea pig, lays traps and tricks for both Nick and a group of French hackers who are following the increasingly nasty trail left for them to unravel the mystery.
Open Windows annoyed the hell out of me. Not only is it derivative, but it asks a lot of the audience to suspend not just their disbelief, but their incredulity that they’ve been hoodwinked by this film’s sheer audacity at existing. As a found footage film, by way of watching things through Elijah Wood’s laptop, it’s an interesting idea that tickled my fancy as somebody keen on anything to do with internet privacy (or lack thereof, if you’re Jennifer Lawrence), but I’m sad to say the execution of said premise, which sees Wood as a fanboy of actress Sasha Grey suddenly mixed up with a manipulative hacker genius, is far from entertaining. Sure, there’s some B-movie work going on here that gives Grey a chance to show her body off in a mainstream film (as opposed to the triple-x sites online) and has Wood once again the target of an unseen, cruel manipulator (didn’t he suffer the same fate in Grand Piano?) that taps into the fear of internet privacy and hackers controlling our personal information, but overall Open Windows is an exercise in tedious, knee-jerk plot twists and crappy, facepalm decision making. Hashtag stupid.
It’s not so much the performances by the cast that make this film so silly, rather its the fact that the film slides from reasonably competent (of obvious) thriller into “what the hell were they thinking” insanity that borders on impossible. Not taking into account the fact that Wood spends a large part of the film carrying his laptop around with huge download data just streaming onto it, but the way communication between Chord, the unseen menace, and Triop (the French hackers) doing their behind-the-scenes chase-down, and Nick all seems to convenient and instant (I know a few gamers who’d love to have zero lag on a moving laptop if they could), while the plot twists and turns itself inside-out with contrivance after contrivance. It’s this sense of “making it up on the fly” that undoes the film’s solid opening by about the half-way mark – a scene involving Grey’s Jill having to strip for Nick (under instruction from Chord) seems a tad salacious, and everything after that moment becomes more and more hard to believe. By the end of the film, I was just about ready to turn my phone back on and surf the actual internet (because movie internet looks cooler, but is way less possible) before I slapped myself unconscious from all the WTF flying about.
Open Windows is a little like the ultimate technology jam, magnified to a hundred. There’s live streaming of phone calls from other phones, GPS tracking of cameras mounted on car dashboards (in real time, no less), and NSA quality operating systems on what appear to be standard laptop equipment, equipment so powerful it’s capable of tasking an entire CIA black op within half an hour of this film starting. The film, directed by Spaniard Nacho Vigalondo (whose Timecrimes is a film I’ve long had on my “must get to at some point” list – it never ends – sigh) is at least visually arresting, as the camera slides across Nick’s computer screen relaying all the information he can see back to us. Although the admittedly insane use of tech to provide all manner of security vision, phone-camera footage and other cues and twists is cleverly done from a visual perspective, it’s the plot itself, and the truly incomprehensibly insane manner in which it unfolds, that makes Open Windows a browser you just want to shut off. As much as he’s a terrific artisan of the film medium’s visual cluster, as a story (and as characters), Vigalondo’s film is bogglingly inadequate.
For all it’s labyrinthine twists – most of which aren’t as clever as the film thinks they are – and clever, pop-culture-echo fear-mongering, Open Windows is deviously misleading and utterly preposterous. Some will no doubt buy into this silliness, and there will be plenty who probably find this film borderline genius; I am not one of them. I found Open Windows simply too silly for its own good, a decent premise wrecked upon the age-old problem of terrible plot points and character with little nuance or delicacy to them, and an inherent refusal to allow us to get to know any of the characters in the film (a flaw in the found footage format moreso than with Vigalondo’s script, I think); while it opens strongly (if somewhat reminiscent of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End) it struggles to find its own sense of identity amongst the nonsensical plot developments, and falls apart rather quickly. Frankly, this is one film you really shouldn’t download.