A young woman studying the habits of webcam chat users from the apparent safety of her apartment witnesses a brutal murder online and is quickly immersed in a nightmare in which she and her loved ones are targeted for the same grisly fate as the first victim.
The Den is a story about a young woman named Elizabeth that receives a grant from a University to conduct a study about the many different types of people that use software called “The Den”, which is just a cute name for what is actually Skype, so from here on let’s call it what it is. Naturally, she encounters various users ranging from perverts to curious people just looking for friends, (but mostly perverts), until coming across disturbing footage of a woman being killed. What follows is a trail of blood and terror as herself, her friends and her family become targets in seemingly random acts of violence.
Reminiscent of “Sinister” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark”, this movie has a very strong opening sequence. It’s quiet, evenly paced, suspenseful and has your attention. And, continuing with tradition, fails to keep the steady pace and suspense and leaves you shaking your head at what could have been a great horror movie. The looming sense of unpredictability combined with the vulnerability of the main character leaving herself open to whatever and whomever might connect on the other side of the chat creates an incredibly scary tone. I found myself thinking right away that this was going to be a diamond in the rough horror movie, but alas, it turned out to be cubic zirconium.
The notion of a horror movie filmed entirely using a webcam/Skype-cam might have some horror movie-goers a bit stand-offish, but I found it to be refreshingly original. With the horror movie market ripe with shaky, cheap found footage films, this provides an alternative look at horror from a stationary, visible perspective. Occasionally we might see footage from a “Den” user on their cell phone, but the angles don’t change spontaneously and without reason like those found footage disasters. I am of course only talking about my feelings around the first half of the movie, because in the latter half we are inexplicably shown footage from security cameras, shaky handheld cameras, and the entire film transforms into just another found footage horror movie. Why? Why couldn’t they just stay the course and continue to be original? Why take the safe, overused route that everyone else takes? It’s a shame.
Let’s talk about the story for a minute. Everything was fine with Elizabeth as the main character conducting this study for the University, why did they have to complicate it with meaningless side characters that contribute nothing to developing the story? Elizabeth has a friend who is a techie, and she seems to always need his help but is also very quick to let him know his efforts are not appreciated. She doesn’t treat anyone else that badly, so why this guy? Seriously, she yells and cusses at him unapologetically and without provocation. Also, which one is the boyfriend? We are shown a few men that appear to be in her life, but I find it difficult to discern between all of them. I actually had the same trouble with her sister and her female friend. I only knew which one was talking because she would start the conversations with “Hey, sis” which, by the way, siblings rarely do when referring to one another, and certainly not that often. The whole thing is so convoluted it makes me wonder if the writers were just desperate for more “victims” for the movie and decided to throw in these random people.
Aside from the difficulty keeping up with characters and shaky cameras, how was the rest of the story? Well, it can be narrowed down to one simple formula: Shit happens + Elizabeth is always there = Police are called and no one questions why Elizabeth is always there when shit happens. Granted, the police don’t seem to take her seriously at first when someone goes missing, but why is no one questioning why Elizabeth is always there when someone is being attacked/killed/kidnapped/harassed? It doesn’t matter anyway because the police are useless in this movie, (what else is new), and in the end we are finally shown who is behind the attacks and why they are doing it. It turns out, a bunch of rednecks in the desert are running a website where they display their violent acts to people for money. The fact that Elizabeth is the main character is completely coincidental and random, and could just as easily have been some other woman. Before the credits, we see a man in his bedroom paying to see someone killed until his son walks in the room and he turns the computer off.
In closing, was it all just a message about disgusting Americans paying ludicrous amounts of money at the expense of innocent people? I hope not, because I’m so tired of that cliche. V/H/S: Viral centered its whole plot around that message and it sucked beyond suck. This one is worth watching to appreciate the movie that it could have been, and the suspense leading up in the first half, but don’t go in expecting some masterpiece. It’s a Friday night horror movie.