Dir: Nacho Vigalondo
Written By: Nacho Vigalondo
Starring: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell, Iván González
UK release: Frightfest 2014
Following her refusal to have dinner with a competition winner, a diva actress finds herself at the mercy of a hacker and the unsuspecting man he’s chosen to do his bidding.
Much like the similarly-themed The Den, which also screened at Frightfestthis year, Elijah Wood vehicle Open Windows is presented entirely via computer screens. Where The Den utilised this gimmick to create tension and a sense of claustrophobia, Open Windows establishes a race against time that begins almost as soon as its protagonist first logs on.
Wood, who is quickly making a name for himself in genre pictures following a star turn in Franck Khalfoun’s stunning 2012 Maniac reboot, is Nick, a normal guy who runs a website in support of popular actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). After winning a competition to have dinner with Jill, Nick suddenly finds himself at the mercy of a ruthless hacker who can control pretty much any electronic device within a certain remit, including Nick’s computer, Jill’s mobile phone and every laptop in a ten mile radius. Although he’s clearly an evil genius, the hacker (voiced by Kill List’s Neil Maskell, weirdly enough) speaks with a thick Cockney accent, meaning much of his dialogue comes across a bit funnier than is perhaps intended.
A decent premise is stretched slightly thin over a 100-minute running time, but Wood is an enigmatic screen presence and he does desperate, weak everyman well. Grey, last seen overacting in the rather good Would You Rather, is a good fit for the spoilt Jill, a woman who believes she’s worth far more than she is, and whose strength of character is perhaps a bit lacking. She overacts once again, even when she’s starring in the film within the film, but she seems more comfortable here at least. There’s a nod to her previous career as a porn star too, which hints that maybe she’s got a sense of humour about herself.
Written and directed by Timecrimes’ Nacho Vigalondo, who also contributed a segment to V/H/S: Viral, Open Windows is a fast-paced, understandably silly film that believes its plot is much cleverer than it actually is. The Den took a bigger risk by limiting the action to one PC monitor and one woman. Open Windows branches out by encompassing every screen in L.A. and, at times, it feels almost too inclusive. Vigaolondo may be making a point about privacy and internet security, but the film doesn’t seem to really understand either. A subplot, involving a Paris-based group of hackers, provides much-needed respite from Nick’s troubles, as the dudes in question believe him to be a legendary terrorist known as Nevada, and consistently refer to him by that title in spite of how irritated he gets. In a film that seems to take itself more seriously than is necessary, it’s a nice addition.
With a minimal score, and absolutely zero jump scares, Open Windows is a refreshingly low key thriller. There’s an inventive, albeit slightly unrealistic, twist and the tension is built remarkably well considering Wood spends most of his time talking to a various screens. The technology may be a bit out there, but it’s still fun to marvel at, even if the majority of people will roll their eyes at how easily each device is comprised – although, in the wake of the iCloud leak, it may be more true to life than we can imagine. The biggest issue is that, without giving in to the madness, it’s difficult to get lost in the narrative and there are some who will refuse to buy into the terror plot at all, because it is overcomplicated and outlandish.
Open Windows is a diverting enough flick, once the required suspension of disbelief is attained, and the leads are likeable, but IT experts best steer clear – there are moments when even the most dim computer user will call bullshit over what the mysterious hacker seems to be able to control.