“Director Nacho Vigalondo has his finger on the pulse of this cultural phenomenon of celebrity obsession being married to instant access through the Internet, producing a timely tale of voyeurism going down a dark road in his latest thriller.”
Release date: October 3, 2014 (VOD), November 7, 2014 (theaters)
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Stars: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell
Running time: 100 minutes
MPAA rating: R
After watching director Nacho Vigalondo’s new film Open Windows for a second time in preparation for this review, I couldn’t help but reflect on the recent wave of leaked pictures of naked celebrities, released by who I will very generously refer to as disturbed users of 4chan. It’s just that this objectification of celebrities has become that much easier as technology advances. The pop culture news industry has thrived and boomed, in part, due to our increasing ability to track stars 24/7. If the world at large is becoming increasingly paranoid that the average person is far from safe from the prying eyes in the skies, then our celebrities have reason to be doubly worried. Vigalondo has his finger on the pulse of this cultural phenomenon of celebrity obsession being married to instant access through the Internet, producing a timely tale of voyeurism going down a dark road in Open Windows.
Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) is a blogger with an achingly vanilla personality who runs a fan website about sullen actress and ingenue Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). Nick is under the impression that he has won a contest to have dinner with Jill and travels to Austin where Jill is doing publicity for her new film Dark Sky. However, prior to the dinner, he receives a phone call from a man named Chord (Neil Maskell, Kill List, Basic Instinct 2), who informs Nick that Jill has cancelled the dinner leaving Nick as an afterthought. But Chord provides Nick with the opportunity to have his revenge and up-close-and-intimate time with Jill, interfacing with Nick’s computer and giving him access to her hacked phone to track her movements. It soon becomes clear, however, that Chord was the one who fabricated the contest with Jill in order to lure Nick to Austin to use as a proxy to torment the actress.
Wood was born to play for this part: one that’s similar to the awkward reluctant protagonist that he’s portrayed so well in such works as Wilfred. As Nick, while he does interact with Chord via computer, he spends a good portion of the film bouncing off a computer screen as he watches uncomfortably every personal aspect of Jill’s life. Watching his eyes dart back and forth between the various open windows on his computer screen echoes how frenetic our attention has become with such a wealth of information being available at our fingertips in this digital age.
That’s why Vigalondo’s approach to using the various windows is so inspired, as it gives us so many points-of-view that sometimes absorbing all of the information can seem laborious. While that might sound like a slight to Vigalondo’s filmmaking approach, it’s actually to his credit, as he is helping to capture how the Internet has both made a wealth of information available to use while at the same time stretching our attention spans to snapping points. Our attention is halved, then halved, then halved again, yet we can’t look away.
That hold the Internet has on us, almost like an addiction, is mirrored in how Chord leads Nick around by the nose during much of the film. Chord tantalizes Nick with clicking this link here, watching this live feed there, when, before he knows it, he’s in too deep. Nick begins doing things he very well never expected to do, such as using a taser on unsuspecting victims at Chords’s behest. And isn’t that what we do, to an extent? We give into the the Internet’s siren call.We check our phones several times a day, every time the ding of a notification hits our ears. We succumb to click bait that teases a story of a drunken model acting with abandon. We go deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.
Which brings us to the scene early in the film that fully encapsulates our current voyeuristic zeitgeist: When Chord first contacts Nick and gives him access to his own 24/7 Jill-a-thon, Nick doesn’t jump at the chance. He’s hesitant, but he clicks each link anyway. Wood plays Nick as noticeably uncomfortable, but becomes more willing to click the next link to see the next tidbit of Jill’s life the further he travels down the rabbit hole. Wood’s expressions indicate more and more that he’s thinking that the information is at his disposal, so why not? And I’m sure that’s what a lot of people who clicked on the leaked photos of Jennifer Lawrence, et al, thought when they clicked on the links that gave them a glimpse into otherwise inaccessible pictures. “What’s the harm, right? The gods are there to dance for us.” The harm, of course, is that when we click on those links, we become accomplices in objectifying those celebrities and denying them their humanity. Moreover, as Nick learned, when we click those links, we deny ourselves our own humanity as well.
Open Windows is available on VOD October 3 and hits theaters November 7.