At this year’s FrightFest the director of Spanish time travelling horror Timecrimes returned with cyber action-thriller Open Windows and comedy-horror Extraterrestrial. If that was not enough, Nacho Vigalondo also returned to the horror anthology following a first tour of duty on the ABC’S of Death, with the Parallel Monsters segment for the ongoing V/H/S found footage series –V/H/S Viral.
For the sake of dramatic escalation we suspect ahead of Nick (Elijah Wood) that not all is above board with the competition he’s won to dine with film star Jill Godard (Sasha Grey), or the reason for its cancellation. Mystery not being the precedence here, it is where this event leads that is of concern, and unfortunately for Nick it leads into his own personalised cyber nightmare where he unwittingly becomes the actress’ stalker.
From Hitchcock’s career long exploitation of the theme of voyeurism and watching, to the slasher sub-genre as fuel for the discussion of the male gaze, these themes have become intertwined with cinema. Parallels between our voyeuristic position as spectators and Nick’s own invasive voyeuristic act are likely to invite comparisons. These aside, Open Windows is a thrilling and suspenseful film of one characters spiralling descent into entrapment, coercion and manipulation that present the unlikely Nick with an opportunity for a little heroic wish fulfilment, as his a nightmare continues to spiral out of control and Open Windows evolves from cyber thriller to cyber action-chase movie.
But is Nick cast as the victim or the antagonist? Almost certainly he’s a character with his back to the wall – coerced or manipulated into a set of actions that to the objective camera frames him as the guilty party. In this tale however guilt and coercion are the product of the subjective manipulations of the puppeteer – – the mysterious voice and masked Chord (Neil Maskell). It is out of this that Vigalondo weaves his gripping little action-thriller number that all comes back to that theme of voyeurism and watching, where Nick’s voyeuristic interest in Jill is ripe for manipulation for a dark and twisted game. Guilt here is a product of not only Chord’s manipulations, but also Nick’s voyeuristic cravings that see him unwisely take a peek down the rabbit hole of his shadow identity.
For those of us on the other side of the screen we are treated to a fast-paced and inventive thrill ride that presents point of view storytelling in an interesting way that has become stale with the over saturation of found footage films. Although despite an intriguing execution in the early portion of the film where events restricted to the point of view of Nick’s webcam or the open windows on his lap top, Vigalondo is inevitably forced to widen the scope of this point of view that creates a sense of disappointment, as Nick’s computer screen of various Open Windows and communications made for a fascinating stage for the suspenseful and voyeuristic drama to unfold.
With the recent celebrity phone hacking scandals, Open Windows is a timely film, although Vigalondo creates what may only be a coincidental collision between entertainment and reality. In an age where our obsession with reality can only be accessed via our computer screens, phones or other devices, Open Windows is a film of our time that taps into anxieties and obsessions that have spiralled outward from the privacy debate; the fear of being watched, as well as hacked where our digital footprint is manipulated. As with all effective horror and thrillers, Vigalondo finds an anxiety that is effective in powering his cyber action-thriller.
Not dissimilar to Luc Besson’s Lucy, the plausibility of the drama exists in the films imagination, and whilst it is a world that looks similar to ours, it exists separately, functioning by a set of implausible possibilities that add spice to the magic of the silver screen and the events that play out upon its stage.
Elijah Wood continues to make a home for himself in these dark roles, and in Open Windows he offsets his antagonistic turns in Maniac and Pawn Shop Chronicles to show diversity to his onscreen presence. Wood possesses magnetism; a subtlety that comes through his almost angelic gaze that compliments the darkness of his characters, and the drama by either adding to or offsetting. Through his eyes he has the capacity to be angel or demon, and to even plant himself somewhere in No Man’s Land between the two. Equally Sasha Grey continues to show a natural ability in front of the camera with a sensual and emotionally complex identity that offsets her past identity that are the foundations of her onscreen identity.
If there are a heritage of films on the subject of voyeurism and watching, then with time travelling horror Time Crimes to cyber action-thriller Open Windows, Nacho Vigalondo contributes his own twisted tales to the canon, in both of which watching and the voyeuristic feature within the plots. Whilst comparisons to Hitchcock are likely, Vigalondo does not permit himself to fall into the shadow of the master of suspense, but rather stands as a testament that no one filmmaker has ownership of cinematic themes or narratives, but rather cinema is a pool or ocean to be added to.