In an age of torrents, gossipy websites and photo hacks, what has become of hero worship? This is a question Nacho Vigolando ponders with his new film OPEN WINDOWS. Though truthfully, he should have pondered it a bit longer.
The title is literal. Virtually the entire film is seen through open windows on a computer monitor, straying from this only to show similar video feeds that advance the plot. There are virtually no shots where what we see on the screen is not another screen. It’s an interesting tack to take, not just as a twist on the obsession with “found footage,” but as a commentary showing how our world is connected to constant video screens. The screens give us information, without truly telling us anything, just like in real life.
Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) owns the largest website devoted to actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). His website keeps up on news items, Hollywood gossip, screen shots from publicity tours and the occasional titillating nip slip. Nick is tickled to have won a contest where he will get to meet his idol, as she concludes a press junket for her latest film.
Only he isn’t at the press junket himself. He is still in his hotel room, on his computer, watching the event over a live stream. Nick doesn’t see anything strange about this and we get the feeling that he’s used to spending most of his time in front of his laptop. But a caller does find it strange, or at least he pretends to. Chord (Neil Maskell) is a faceless man on the other end of a phone line. He claims to be connected with Goddard’s publicity department and wondered why he was snapping pics of the live stream instead of attending the event himself. He then gives Nick the unfortunate news that the contest has been unceremoniously canceled
Chord gives him a few more angles on Goddard for the web site, but his tone gets nastier. He tells Nick that she is the reason the contest was canceled, that she is selfish and then proceeds to make several sexually derogatory comments about the actress. Chord gives him the opportunity to follow Goddard’s movement via state of the art surveillance equipment – the type that you would not expect possible from someone not connected with government organizations. This leads to an altercation where Nick is forced to flee the apartment, laptop still open to stay in contact with Chord.
Now on the run, Nick is led by Chord to Goddard’s home. It is there that Chord announces that he intends to murder Goddard if Nick doesn’t do what he says. He forces Nick to prompt the actress into sexually provocative positions, all the while holding both Nick and Jill at his mercy. This is easily the most disturbing scene in OPEN WINDOWS. While Nick reluctantly acquiesces, we can’t help but note that this is a sexual assault, even though Jill is in the room alone. Jill is forced to do things against her will and by using Nick as a surrogate, Chord is making him complicit in a sexual assault on his celebrity crush. It is an assault on both Nick and Jill while Chord sits silently at his terminal, free from consequence.
The victimization of women, particularly on the internet, is nothing new though it is finally getting the scrutiny is deserves. To keep things in perspective as they relate to OPEN WINDOWS, I am reminded of the massive invasion of privacy that occurred when the private, intimate photos of several female celebrities were leaked onto the internet by hackers. Self-congratulating internet thugs dubbed this event, “the Fappening,” as if the comical name could mask its ill intent. When actress Jennifer Lawrence, for whom I have a lot of respect, stated that the people who sought out the photos participated in a sex crime, the voyeurs hemmed and hawed. But though it’s true they didn’t molest anyone or even steal the photos themselves, they did take part in viewing the results. They became willing participants in the continued violation of Lawrence’s privacy. Criticisms that the photos should have never existed in the first place were a “blame the victim” reaction that missed the point.
People often chalk up their online excursions to harmless fun, when in fact these crimes have victims and consequences, whether we can see them or not. It doesn’t matter if the victims are public figures, become unwilling public figures when we peek into their bedroom windows uninvited. There is little difference between the celebrity photo leak and so-called “revenge porn” in which private sex tapes are uploaded onto the net by spurned ex-lovers. These are despicable and criminal acts that are only encouraged by people who bring the hit counters up. The level of voyeurism in the online world has become so extreme that it exceeds any question of fandom, respect or common human decency.
These disturbing aspects of modern society are brought up by OPEN WINDOWS and I just spent more time exploring them than Nacho Vigolando. As a director, his strengths have been self-contained, labyrinthine plots that don’t let up. When someone notes that nothing makes sense now, but it will by the end, he may as well be talking about a large part of Vigolando’s filmography. However, whereas this topsy-turvy, breathless approach worked in more fantastical works like TIMECRIMES, here they ring false.
The motif of moving the plot forward through a seemingly all-encompassing surveillance network seems more like a gimmick than a genuine storytelling hook. This is evidenced by Chord’s seeming ability to not just peek in, but to take control of anything he wants at any time. There is a moment in which it is alleged he has taken over a large chunk of the global internet and someone finally asks rhetorically, “How can he do that?” But for the viewer, this isn’t a rhetorical question. Even for someone with as little tech knowledge as myself, I found myself answering “He can’t do that,” just as I had been for the past hour. I don’t care how fancy your servers are, the things Chord is able to do in OPEN WINDOWS and the time in which he is able to do them seem nothing short of godlike. And it makes it hard to take these events seriously.
Elijah Wood is an interesting actor who has parlayed his past notoriety into tackling some interesting roles over the past few years. In fact, it’s hard to separate OPEN WINDOWS from another, much more successful film he starred in less than a year ago, GRAND PIANO. Much like OPEN WINDOWS, GRAND PIANO also featured Wood as a man being manipulated by a faceless caller into playing a role in a violent scheme. Only I could buy what GRAND PIANO was selling, even when it got a bit sillier towards the end.
Sasha Grey is also an accomplished actor, though the prejudices of the world will probably never let her fully escape her origins as a star in adult films. She isn’t ashamed of her past, nor should she be. And yes, she has the acting chops to back up her shift in genres. In the days of the Film Geek Central podcast, I named her Best Actress for her amazing work in THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE.
In OPEN WINDOWS, Jill Goddard is almost ready to retire, something that Grey has also been leaning towards as of late. Without officially saying goodbye to film, she has recently nurtured a new audience as she explores the soundscapes of EDM. Grey is not able to shine quite as brightly in OPEN WINDOWS as she was in THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, though there are rays of light that get through in a few of the film’s rare, quiet moments.
OPEN WINDOWS is a thriller that gives you a glimpse at a few things worth exploring, only to get really dumb, really fast. It’s a film that makes up the rules as it goes, instead of using the existing parameters to tell an engaging story. It’s not easy to get the audience to care about people when the film is constantly moving. This is evidenced by OPEN WINDOWS’ complete failure to do so. Disappointing.
RATING SYSTEM AND CRITERIA
- What was the film trying to accomplish and how well did it meet those goals?
- In addition to (or sometimes despite) that, how does the film hold up on sheer entertainment value?
The Best – Reserved for the absolute cream of the crop.
Highly Recommended – Very good. Far better than your typical film and one that I will remember for some time.
Recommended – Just what it says. This is a good film and earns a recommendation. Don’t think that because it’s not one of the top two categories that these films aren’t worth your time. The “recommended” tag is a winner and nothing to sneer at.
Barely Recommended – The middle of the road. Those films where I didn’t feel it was a complete waste of time, but it didn’t set my world on fire either. Not bad, but leaves me feeling bored and/or apathetic.
Disappointing – Close but no cigar. Does a few things right but is ultimately a whole lot of wasted potential. Not recommended.
Awful – A bad movie. Pure and simple. Not worth your time.
The Worst – The Britta Perry of ratings, though not as entertaining. The bottom of the barrel.