Director: Aneesh Chaganty.
There’s been a lot noise about this film, majority being good noise at that. A lot of it praising John Cho’s performance and format of the film itself. So, this really spurred my interest and was looking forward to watching this feature length directorial debut from Aneesh Chaganty.
Unfortunately, this may have set my expectations too high as, sadly I wasn’t overly impressed, nor did I think the performances were anything to go by. The only thing that makes this mystery thriller stand out is the format of using the new screen life sub genre of filming everything from what could be an AI spying on/from someone’s electrical devices.
I say stand out loosely because it’s not groundbreaking, and essentially uses the same format and expands somewhat on what was originally Unfriended. There’s even a little reference to film here, with both films being produced by Timor Bekmambetov; a man who incidentally pioneered this sub genre and is directing his own screen life film, Profile, scheduled for release later this year.
But it steps away from horror and moves into the realm of being a thriller where Cho’s character, David Kim investigates the disappearance of his only daughter, Margot, by essentially hacking into her social media and emails to find, not only clues about her vanishing, but a lot more about herself as a person.
I can’t deny the technical brilliance of the film and can appreciate the incredible undertaking of coding this whole film together. In retrospect, filming only took 13 days and then the following 2 years was piecing the film together using a multitude of key/ branded social platforms and computer operating systems. But again, it’s not the first of it’s kind and even the film’s opening immediately reminded me of Alan Becker’s phenomenal Animator vs. Animation videos.
But in terms of story, script and performance. I found the film to be very underwhelming. I’m not saying Cho was terrible, but it certainly isn’t the outstanding, believable performance some critics are making it out to be; and could it be the contrast of the shoddy acting from the rest of the cast that actually makes him stand out. Cho’s performance of a clingy father trying to find his daughter isn’t convincing at all; it’s dumbed down and way too rational for a man in his position. As for Messing’s performance as Det. Vick leading the investigation, she came across as too amateurish. I feel there little to no research of parents who have been in similar situations and I dread to think what impact this film would have on them. I think of Sean Penn’s performance in Mystic River, and yes, totally different characters, but you can’t believe Cho out performed or even equalled Penn.
As for the story, it’s propped up by obviously plot fillers that make the mystery slightly predictable in places to only then collapse under it all in what appears to be a messy attempt at being clever. It’s not entirely predictable, but the big reveals just make it feel like it’s clutching for a good finish.
This, and the synthetic script just makes the film wholly unbelievable whilst still maintaining intrigue. I can appreciate the complexity of the film’s story, and the necessity of these plot fillers to be in place, but unfortunately it gives too much away.
There’s so many unanswered questions to unnatural responses or behaviour and I honesty doubt both parent and police would handle the investigation in such a linear, yet clumsy way. In fact, the more I think about it the more issues I find that just don’t add up, and I could already write a list. Basically if it’s suppose to represent human behaviour in such situations, it fails, especially with David Kim’s character. I mean, do people actually FaceTime that much? FaceTime the police?
It does pose questions on parenting and who we choose our avatars to be, touching on the risks and dangers of today’s online world; and it certainly displays good examples of how shallow people can be, how the youth culture of today, can have such nonchalant, disrespectful attitudes, having the ability to disconnect from reality at the right click of a mouse; and this is the only thing the film feels realistic about. Trolls do exist people.
Apart from the technical proficiency, I also enjoy Torin Borrowdale’s dynamic score that really helped conveyed the mood and setting. However, comparing this film with a score to it’s earlier sibling films like Unfriended, these films managed to convey fear and emotion without a score. Still, it works here and Borrowdale’s composes a nice range of music.
It’s a sub genre that is very much still at it’s gimmicky stage and I wonder where it’ll go from here. Maybe the next When Harry Met Sally will be like You Got Mail but be totally screen life format, especially with the ever-growing trend of online romances. But for this, it’s fast becoming the most overrated movie of the year.
Running Time: 6
The Cast: 5
Job Description: 4
The Extra Bonus Point: 0