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New Review: The Den (2014)
Director: Zachary Donohue
Cast: Melanie Papalia, David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Matt Riedy, Lily Holleman, Katija Pevec
I had a very difficult time watching The Den. Although it runs a very brief 72 minutes (76 if you count the end credits), there were many instances where I had to pause the movie, if only to catch my breath. Advertised as just another found footage thriller, this one shot through the pane of a computer screen (that is, until the movie's disturbing final scene), I felt a little hesitant as I sat down to watch the movie, but whatever fears I had about the film were put to rest around the 30 minute mark. I hailed last year's The Conjuring as one of the scariest movies I've seen in years. The Den is in the same league.
The movie stars Melanie Papalia as Elizabeth Benton, a young woman working on her graduate thesis. She plans to spend a couple of months on a Chatroulette-type site called The Den, talk with people all over the world, and record each of her conversations. The purpose of the thesis is to explore the habits of the site's users. She comes across one guy who starts waving his junk at the camera, a few perverts who ask her to flash her breasts, and another who tries to pull a blatantly obvious "get rich" scam on her. What makes these scenes so fascinating is that they feel all too familiar. Anyone who's gone on those Internet chat sites has, no doubt, run into the sort of people that Elizabeth encounters here.
During one of her sessions, she witnesses a teenage girl getting her throat slashed in front of her webcam. She goes to the police with the footage, although they don't prove to be much help, since they're not even sure if the video is real or not (And you can't blame them. There's one scene where Elizabeth watches a video where people sit around a table playing Russian Roulette, and it looks frighteningly convincing). As it turns out, there is someone who's taken an interest in Elizabeth. He/she frequently hacks into her computer, logs into her account at The Den, and even records a very intimate moment between her and her boyfriend Damien (David Schlachtenhaufen) and sends it to the people in her e-mail address book. Occasionally, he/she will hack into Elizabeth's account and send messages to her loved ones, often times luring them to their deaths.
It sort of hits home the fact that, by using the Internet to reach out and connect to others, you can never be 100% certain of the people you meet there. People can post a profile picture which may not even be of them, and say whatever they want about themselves, but it could all be just a mask to hide something far more sinister. Too often, we assume that the Internet builds up a secure wall for us from people like that, but The Den hits very close to home by asking us: how secure are we really? It's a frightening thing to consider when you venture onto one of those sites yourself, and even more so once you take into account how many kids wind up on chat sites as well.
The movie is the work of a debut filmmaker named Zachary Donohue, and his work here suggests he has very bright future ahead of him. Simply by knowing where to place the camera during certain scenes, the man is able to ratchet up the tension to almost unbearable levels, and when it comes to jump scares, he certainly delivers the goods (I'll admit, I jumped more than once). He also gets a very good performance out his leading lady. Papalia is dynamite in the role, bringing warmth, strength, and convincing terror to a role that could have easily have been played as a clichéd screaming damsel. She brings a strong human element to the material, so that no matter how absurd the narrative gets (and seriously, who's going to offer a college student a grant just to spend a couple of months in her PJs surfing the web?), we always remain involved with the story.
The Den will certainly not appeal to everybody. This is an extremely violent motion picture, featuring scenes where people are stabbed, slashed, mutilated, strangled, and hung. Only a couple of weeks ago, I ripped apart the Schwarzenegger movie Sabotage because of its violence, but the reason why The Den works and Sabotage didn't is because this movie is actually about something. On top of that, it has a better sense of humor than most horror films released these days (the film's opening, where Elizabeth talks to a kid who claims to have a monster in his closet, scored a solid chuckle out of me). It's easy to see where The Den could have been just another mindless "torture porn" flick, but in the hands of an exciting new filmmaker, it turns into a fresh, scary, and haunting cinematic experience.
Rated R for strong bloody violence, graphic sexual content, some full-frontal male nudity, profanity.
Final Grade: *** ½ (out of ****)
What did you think of this movie? :)
Other Thoughts on The Den (2014)! :D
- The Aisle Seat - The Den
- The Den | Film Review | Slant Magazine
It's dizzyingly creepy in its refracting of horrors through the cascading windows of computer programs we've come to understand more intimately than our own selves.
- The Den Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert
My Other Reviews! :)
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As a fan of the big guy, I have to ask: What the f***?!?!?!?!