Untraceable

You’re the killer! And YOU’RE the killer! And YOU’RE the killer!
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2009
Director: 
Gregory Hoblit
Starring: 
Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross
The Setup: 
Fiendish killer rigs people’s deaths to the amount of people watching it.
Discussion: 

This looked unbearably cheesy and distasteful when it was out, but then reader wrote me to recommend it as so hysterical and hand-wringing that it was good entertainment, so onto my list it went. The first thing on the DVD is an ad for blu-ray that features such films as Wild Wild West, Madagascar, The Patriot, Ultraviolet and Mask of Zorro—woah, better get a blu-ray immediately to catch all these classics of cinema! I so wanted it to end with a tagline CATCH THE WORLD’S SHITTIST MOVIES IN THE MAGIC OF BLU-RAY!

Anyway, so this is directed by Gregory Hoblit, who showed some creative technique in Frequency, but who appears to have crawled back in his stylistic cardboard box here. We’re in Portland, Oregon, where a mean, mean man is setting up a cute kitty for a death to be broadcast on the internet. Then we meet Diane this-is-the-best-role-I-could-get Lane as Jennifer Marsh, tough FBI agent on the cyber-crimes unit, as well as caring mom. She gets to work and immediately takes down some guy who is illegally sharing music on the Internet [die, scum!] and dabbling in seemingly everything else under the sun. She entraps him into stealing her credit card number, then calls the ground team to bash down his door. Busted, dirt bag!

Around 9:50, we must interrupt your normally-scheduled movie experience for an explicit commercial for On-Star. Jennifer is stuck in traffic when she reaches over, touches a button, and has a friendly On-Star representative on the line in seconds. The courteous representative quickly calculates an alternate route that is just 100 feet down the road! Jennifer thanks her, and immediately gets out of traffic! This proves to have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the movie. Come on guys, if you’re going to be this explicit, you may as well just go for it and display a logo and tagline as she pulls off and gets home traffic-free. But let it be clear: The producers of Untraceable want you to buy On-Star.

Anyway, someone handed Jennifer a note with the address killwithme.com, which she logged onto and saw the cute kitty, and was so appalled. Once Jennifer gets home—traffic-free, thanks to On-Star—and puts her adorable daughter to bed [she also lives with her elderly mom—it’s a House Full O' Estrogen] she gets on her Internet—because she is haunted by how anyone could be so cruel!—and sees the kitty, dead. Hang in there, kitty! Oh well, next time.

Jennifer is on the case like a fly on shit, and—but I’m sorry, first it’s important to know that the FBI is running its sophisticated software on Windows Vista, and that “The Wow Starts Now,” which is clearly displayed more than once on FBI monitors. Jennifer discovers that the site originates right there in Portland, which leads them to have a discussion about “What were the chances?” in order to try to cut off viewers from asking the same question. They also find that this evil website changes its IP address constantly, so that once they shut it down, it just pops up somewhere else. Then the killer kidnaps some dude, and he shows up on the site, tied up and bleeding from minor cuts. Thing is, he’s connected to a vial of blood thinner, which is connected to the Internet, and the more people who look at the site, the faster he dies! And “the public is tuning in at an alarming rate,” says Jennifer. I think you can see already that we are in for a SCATHING INDICTMENT of the American craving for cruelty and violence. And it is focused on Americans, because the site is blocking all International traffic—the killer is ONLY interested in exposing Americans and their evil, cruel ways.

Maybe they’re so angry and vile because they’re paying to see a movie, but being served up On-Star and Windows Vista advertisements.

It also seems that the killer is screwing with the FBI, as he isn’t right in town by accident, and it was he who called in the tip. So eventually the guy dies and we are shown a roll of user comments, one of which is ROFL, which Jennifer speaks in disgust: “Rolling on the floor laughing!” Tsk-tsk, the movie wants to say. TSK-TSK!

In here the police go to a suspect’s who has a ton of gay porn pics ripped out and stapled to the wall and gay porn on his computer. Turns out he’s just a pirating perp, but it’s interesting that it’s there, for the homos in the house. Meanwhile, we also learn that Jennifer’s co-worker Griffin is doing a lot of Internet dating [obviously death lies ahead for Griffin] and the tone of the movie grows alarmed when we see Jennifer’s daughter sit down in front of the computer. At this time I have written in my notes: “$10 says the daughter and possibly also the grandma get kidnapped.”

SPOILERS > > >
In here, we meet the killer. He traps this guy in his basement and traps his legs and hands in cement, leaving the rest of him exposed. As people log on to the site, more heat lamps get turned on, and the guy gets cooked alive. There’s discussion of whether the FBI should go on TV to tell the public, since that would essentially be asking people to tune in. They do, but the FBI tells the public NOT to go to the site, since “WE are the murder weapon” and everyone who logs on is “accessory to murder.” Around here there’s a moment where we see the public watching the FBI, some of the people smiling in a creepy way—the evil public, they just love violence! But it’s supposed to be generally creepy that Jennifer turns around again and the crowd is gone, although it becomes funny if you think about it: EVERY member of this group decided to creep her out by vanishing suddenly? Or it could just be that they had to do reshoots and couldn’t get all those extras back.

Then—we knew it was coming—we see the killer begin to research little Annie, Jennifer’s daughter! Then one morning, while Jennifer is in the shower, the front of their house appears on the Internet! Annie is curious, and since her mom’s in the shower, she goes out on the front porch. Stupid little girl! Mom needs to have a talk with her. It seems the killer got their info through a kiddie site on the Internet—ladies and gentlemen, NOWHERE is safe. Jennifer packs mom and the daughter in a car and sends then away an, to my surprise, neither of them actually gets kidnapped. Oh well, shows what I know.

However, Griffin, who you recall has been courting disaster by Internet dating, gets a call from the killer, claiming to be this hot babe he’s been pursuing. He goes over—and ends up tied up in a chamber of water up to his neck. The more people log on, the more sulfuric acid is going to be added to the mixture. The killer delivers more info about just how awful modern human nature is when he says “The whole world wants to watch you die and they don’t even know you.” Which is not technically true, since the movie told us it’s only Americans watching. Anyway, Griffin dies, as he must—I mean, he WAS Internet dating—but not before he blinks a message to the FBI in morse code, that’s going to give them a crucial clue! Way to go, Griff!

Griffin referred them to a clue that came in a while ago, which was a bunch of videos with real-life violence and suicides on it. One of them turns out to be the killer’s father. He killed himself on a bridge, and his suicide became an internet sensation, and people traded it and some people [apparently] profited from the video, so he has a big bug up his ass about how awful humanity is and blah, blah. All the people he’s kidnapped so far have been connected to his father’s video, by the way, although I didn’t pay enough attention to really connect how.

Anyway, guess who gets kidnapped next? If you guessed Jennifer, you’re right! She is strung up over some sort of motorized garden implement with big nasty whirling blades—not the sort of thing you want performing impromptu plastic surgery. The killer points out that with the large amount of porn videos on the net in which women get abused, he thinks she’s likely to receive his highest numbers yet! And she does, which I wish now I had written down. Griffin topped 24 million. Anyway, I thought Jennifer would have to be rescued by her hunky, low-key romance partner who I haven’t mentioned, as the whole story thread is such a nothing, but no, she starts swinging, blows the water heater in the dude’s face, gets herself free, and blows him away with a gun. That’s today’s self-reliant woman! Then, in the final kicker, she gets down and points her gun right into the video camera, and thus directly into the faces of all those millions watching at home, as if to say “That’s right, motherfuckers, and I’m coming for YOU next!” I think it would be awesome if there were a sequel in which she is presented as a kind of superhero, the Internet Avenger, who uses her advanced powers to rid the world of cyber crime, with the help of her trusty sidekicks, Windows Vista and On-Star.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was trash but it was somewhat fun trash, and it had the courtesy to only be 100 minutes long. If you are amused by overheated moral bluster and fairly ludicrous misuses of technology, along with standard police procedural thrills, this is for you. Or, you could skip it completely and still be absolutely fine.

If you want to try to seriously consider the “statement” this film is making, which is not advised for periods exceeding 15 seconds, that’s when the problems emerge. For one, this film has torture-porn levels of gore—it is MUCH more gory than Hostel, for example—and it wants to draw you in and entertain you with the gore, while at the same time telling you that YOU ARE A BAD PERSON for wanting to see it. But more disappointing is that the film wants to condemn American society for its attraction to and insensitivity to violence, yet the film resolutely refuses to ponder what the reasons for that interest in violence might be. After all, doing that might offend the corporate sponsors, and furthermore, quite likely foremost among the reasons Americans are desensitized to violence are MOVIES EXACTLY LIKE THIS ONE! So the movie just wants to shake its head sadly and tsk-tsk loudly, but that’s as far as it’s prepared to go.

I suppose there’s more to say about it, although I’m not sure it’s worth saying it. Lane is fine. Portland actually seems like Portland. The film doesn’t really have any directorial panache. Yeah, that’s about it. Please just keep in mind that the Internet is full of bad people and that if you use the Internet you are quite likely to be brutally tortured and die. Oh, the dark side of human nature. Oh dear, oh dear.

Should you watch it: 

If you have time to kill and no other options.