“”The Den,” The Debut Film From Zachary Donahue, Is A Startlingly Effective Thriller”
When I first heard about Zachary Donahue‘s thriller, “The Den” I the first thing that popped into my mind was the place where an animal lives.
And in sense, I was right though on the face of it the movie revolves around Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia), a doctoral student who’s doing her thesis about The Den, a website that enables people all over the world to communicate with each other, kind of like the lovechild of Facebook and Skype (or FaceTime, depending upon your platform of preference).
As part of the research for her thesis, she’s delving deeper into the world that exists within the site and meeting all sorts of people, some interesting, some funny.
And some dangerous, because Melanie doesn’t know it yet, but among all the fascinating people she’s met, one of them is a murderer with some time to kill.
I have to admit that initially I didn’t think this movie would be very good, especially since everything you see is from the perspective of Melanie’s computer screen, which feels a bit gimmicky. That being said, it takes a bit of getting used to, but when you do the story is not only effective, but surprisingly immersive.
Things begin gradually, starting from seemingly innocent attempts to contact her, to invading Melanie’s privacy though logging into her Den account and activating her computer’s camera without her knowledge (which is possible, though perhaps not for the average layperson).
Melanie then begins searching for the killer (in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Michael Winner‘s “The Sentinel,” which is high praise) not aware that while she’s looking for him, he’s looking for her.
And he’s seen her Friends list.
Part of what makes the film so effective is that you have no idea the location of the killer. All you know is that he has a computer, and a camera. He could easily be on another continent, he could be next door, though with his ability to access Melanies’s computer is almost irrelevant because he could reach anyone who has access to the Internet.
What’s also interesting is that the film has the feel of a found-footage movie, like the ‘Paranormal Activity’ films, but unlike most of those films Melanie isn’t running around with a camera when anyone with a little common sense (and a willingness to survive) would have dropped it long ago.
Instead she’s doing what millions of us do everyday (and many of you are doing right now, if you’re reading this review), just sitting in front of her computer, unaware that while she’s watching the screen, there’s someone somewhere watching her as well.
Now that’s scary.
I should also mention that Melanie is a not a very knowledgeable computer user because there are no Mac viruses. Zip, nada, zero, yet she clicks on a bit of malware that wipes her machine. My computer, an iMac, alerts me when I am about to click on an executable and tells me what it could potentially do, giving me to option whether or not to continue. Also, Time Machine, a backup utility, comes standard with every Mac. All that’s required is an external hard drive (to store your data), so for most users it wouldn’t be as much an issue as it appears to be for Melanie.
Which is not for a moment to imply that a system wipe isn’t inconvenient and scary as Hell, because it is.
“The Den” comes courtesy of IFC Midnight