Released November 7th. Stars: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey and Neil Maskell. Director: Nacho Vigalondo. Distributed by Cinedigm. The distribution company provided an advance screening of this film.
Open Windows is the English-language debut of director Nacho Vigalondo, but you may already be familiar with his Spanish-language debut Timecrimes. (If you aren't familiar, it's worth looking up this sci-fi flick about a man stuck in a time loop.) Though Open Windows lacks some of the punch of Timecrimes, it's still an interesting take on the thriller genre -- and packs some surprising twists.
Paring it down to the basics, Open Windows has a fairly standard horror/thriller premise: there's a bad guy (essentially) in the protagonist's home forcing him to do things... only in this case the "home" in question is a computer. It's an interesting modern twist on the classic home invasion concept, and it makes for an enjoyable, creepy flick that's tailor-made for the Internet era.
Elijah Wood stars as the wide-eyed Nick Chambers, a computer nerd who runs a fan site for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). When Nick finds out his chance to meet Jill in person has been canceled, the mysterious Chord (Neil Maskell) -- only a voice on the other end of a digital phone call -- steps in to offer a solution: he can hack in to Jill's phone and computer so Nick can see everything she does. Nick initially agrees, thinking Chord is on the up-and-up, but as Chord's assistance delves into ever more questionable territory, he switches from cajoling Nick to threatening him to get his cooperation.
In the middle of this, Jill could have easily been a simple damsel in distress, left as eye candy to the viewers in the same way that she's eye candy for Nick and Chord. Jill is a harried star whose fans only seem interested in whether she'll take her shirt off in her next movie and her sex life. She seems set on leaving acting -- or at least the movie series that has landed her this fanbase -- but everyone she works with pressures her to stay in, while Chord, watching from a distance, calls her names for it. While Jill doesn't exactly have an easy trip through the narrative, she's not the typical horror movie damsel who does nothing but scream. Jill refuses to wait to be rescued -- which is still a fairly novel take for genre flicks. Grey's portrayal really sells the character, who alternately seems vulnerable and strong, but always believable.
The film's visuals are unique, too, presented mostly video feeds in windows on a computer computer screen (thus the title), an image that's likely familiar to any Internet denizen. The fact that the film manages to take place almost exclusively within the confines of a computer monitor and still remain visibly interesting -- by shifting focus from video feed to video feed and switching between feeds on a monitor and the view from internet-connected cameras -- is nothing short of an astounding feat. In the finale, visual effects take center stage when the film shifts into the real world... but keeps a lot of visual artifacts from the digital one.
However, there are some flaws here that prevent Open Windows from quite being a great film. Like an episode of CSI, the tech on show doesn't quite ring true to the geeky audience most likely to see the film: cameras everywhere are digitally connected and can be easily hacked, a few keyclicks can take over the internet, and hacker tropes (like the hacker group that wears oddly lit sunglasses) are out in full force. For a film that seems to be set a rather realistic present day, these elements just don't work, and there's some suspension of disbelief required to follow along with the premise anyway.
Further, the visuals, while often lovely, don't always make sense. Because the film spends so much time limiting its vision based on what and where it can see -- showing only camera angles Nick's computer has access to -- some of the things we can see seem odd, despite attempts to explain them. For example, at one point we see Jill crawling through the back of a car. Her image is distorted, like a low-fi 3D model, and is supposedly captured from the image feeds of numerous cameras in a bag in the car's trunk. It -- and many of the other cool visuals in the last portion of the film -- are great effects, but they don't always seem to make logical sense, which feels strange when the film has spent so much of its running time establishing how we can see the world.
Still, the movie is a fun twist on a classic horror tale and top-notch performances from the entire cast make it work even when it doesn't quite work. The end result is a fun watch with some unexpected twists, if not necessarily the best horror film you'll see this year.
Bottom Line: Open Windows is an okay film, but it's made into a good one through strong showings from both Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey.
Recommendation: Genre film fans who are looking for something a little different are likely to enjoy this twist on the classic home invasion thriller.