Gregory Hoblit is just one of those directors that constantly churns out mediocre to tolerable films that end up being stuck on USA and TBS in weekend movie marathons. And, at the rate AMC is going, they’ll probably be on there one day too. Point being, they’re all pretty forgettable. Hoblit is the man responsible for Frequency, which truly is a USA staple, and one I still haven’t sat through, and Fallen, which was made almost a decade earlier as The Hidden to much better results. UNTRACEABLE, his latest foray into bland and formulaic film making will be joining the list shortly.
The normally charming and competent MILF Diane Lane stars as FBI agent Jennifer Marsh, lead investigator of the cyber crimes division in Portland, OR. While going through the normal motions of tracking hackers one night with her fellow agent Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), she’s tipped off to a site called Killwithme.com. The site features a live-streaming video of a cat being tortured and killed, as users chat about what’s going on. If you’re a PETA supporter, you’ve probably already left the building by now.
The cat, of course, is only the beginning. People begin showing up on the site, befalling the same fate as ol’ whiskers. It’s never really a fast and painless death, as everything has to be prolonged and meticulously set up, in a way which tends to hearken to the Saw films. But, there’s a catch. The more hits come in, the faster the victim dies. Marsh attempts to just shut down the site but it just can’t be done, as it creates mirrored IP addresses and more technical jargon that I don’t understand. It tries to be smart, using technical computer terms that people unfamiliar with programming will buy into immediately. I can’t actually comment on whether it is actually accurate or not, as I am one of said people. And much like you’d expect the rest of the film to turn out, Marsh and crew work endless hours trying to bring the killer to justice and unravel the mystery of his motive.
The film, much like every other Internet-based horror flick, takes a great premise and throws it away in lieu of something far less entertaining. The film is ultimately uneven at everything it does. Lane will have a good performance in one scene, then an absolutely terrible one in the next. She seems more shook up about a cat being tortured than the first human victim. Random second unit shots disrupt the flow of the movie. Several scenes are set up with a decent amount of tension to end up spiraling into mediocrity and predictability. There is no doubt in my mind that most of the film’s shortcomings are a result of having “Too many cooks in the kitchen” syndrome. Three writers worked on the screenplay make it overly apparent that they couldn’t find a good balance… of anything. This is not to say that the film doesn’t have its moments, it just doesn’t have them often enough. Even worse, the film is a shameless rip-off of recent films such as The Card Player, Cradle of Fear (one segment anyway) and, minorly, FeardotCom. It’s like they couldn’t even wait for the DVDs to gather dust on the shelf.
What annoys me the most is the copy and paste subtext from a dozen other films I’ve seen in the last decade. The commentary on society being obsessed with voyeuristic content, like reality shows, and our love for violence is old news. We know we’re desensitized and we’re perfectly content with that. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be sitting through watered down torture porn (yes, that’s right, I used the phrase torture porn… I’m ashamed too), which is exactly what UNTRACEABLE is. Apparently, films like this are desensitizing our taste too, since I know people will turn out in droves to watch this exercise in mediocrity. I’d like to live to see the day that someone can have a valid and entertaining execution on the subject without shoving what it’s preaching against in my face. Then again, if I’m going live until then, I’d better get to tracking down the Fountain of Youth because at the rate we’re going, it’s never going to happen.
Like last year’s The Condemned, UNTRACEABLE tries to have its cake and eat it too. It’s really a shame that it ends up choking in the end. Mark my words; someone will eventually make a good cyber-based horror film. This one just isn’t it.