The Den (2013)
Elizabeth is a young woman doing a study on the interaction between random strangers who visit an internet chatroom called The Den (think early Chatroulette). Things take a horrifying turn when she witnesses a brutal murder. The police don't take it seriously, and assume she is the victim of an online prank. But then someone hacks into her laptop, and bad things begin happening to her close friends and family.
The film starts as an interesting variation on the found footage format, with everything seen through the desktop of the Elizabeth's laptop. Windows open and close on the screen as she has webcam conversations, types messages, streams video, or reads emails. As a storytelling device, it works surprisingly well. It also highlights society's increasing immersion in social media, with instant connection and multiple interactions happening at once. The story is told through different types of new media. They aren't named, but closely resemble Google Maps/Streetview, YouTube, Chatroulette, Skype, and instant messaging. Computer viruses, hackers, financial scams, and unwanted sexual images all appear too. The pros and cons of life online are all included here, as if the writer has gone through a check list. The filmmaker makes the point that we don't fully appreciate how much we put at risk our reputation, career, relationships and of course our safety. How do we know the person at the other end is actually who they say they are? And could anyone spot the 'bad people' of the Internet if they saw them in everyday life? The Den is disturbing because it's all so familiar and close to home. We don't go into haunted houses, dark woods or other scary movie locations as a rule. But we do access social media every day, in the same way the characters do here.
After attempting an interesting new approach up to the halfway point, it reverts to a more conventional found footage format. Characters suddenly start filming everything on their smartphones, even when they're running in terror. Swooping, shaky recordings and CCTV start to get involved, as the film shifts from one perspective to multiple. To be fair, the second half of the movie is still tense and dramatic, and it features well designed sets and great atmospheric lighting. But overall it feels like a much more generic found footage movie.
The use of social media is a great idea, but the speed at which things change means the film risks looking dated much faster. I mean, who hasn't chuckled at the mobile phones and computers in films from a few years ago? Chatroulette had already reached its peak back in 2009/10 so it was already 'old news' by the time the film was released, and Facebook and Twitter have been hugely popular for a couple of years, yet none of the characters use them.
As a horror movie, The Den is disturbing and suspenseful, and is far more scary than a lot of similar films. It also gave me plenty to think about (like whether I really wanted to go back online afterwards!) There are even a few nods to other horror films which are fun to spot (Halloween and Rec/Quarantine, for example). Yes, the plot has some holes in it, and it isn't as original as it wants to be. But I found it to be entertaining and I enjoyed the ride.