Review by Jack Foley
UNLIKE its name suggests, the inspiration for Gregory Hoblit’s above average thriller can be traced to countless other serial killer flicks, beginning with Se7en and Saw and coming all the way up to Captivity and WAZ.
What sets it apart, however, is the presence of a strong leading lady in Diane Lane, a stronger premise than usual and a director who clearly knows his way around the thriller genre.
Hoblit has previously directed episodes of NYPD Blue, as well as courtroom thrillers Primal Fear and Fracture, so knows how to keep viewers hooked, even though the torture porn elements of the story remain unsavoury.
The plot is simple: Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is a widowed FBI agent from Portland, Oregon whose career is spent surfing the net at night in search of cyber crime. When she’s directed to a new site, entitled KillWithMe.com, that shows a cat being killed, she suspects that more will follow. Within days the website moves onto humans, with each new victim being killed faster as more and more people log on.
The main hook, of course, is the online murders, which entail the sort of elaborate deaths that would make a dozen James Bond villains envious (especially since they’re most successful!). This involves hapless victims face being bled to death, burnt to a crisp or facing an acid bath if online users keep logging on. The perpetrator maintains that viewers are the weapon and that no one would die if people refused to watch.
And it’s this dubious morality issue that really makes Hoblit’s thriller such compelling viewing, raising many more questions beyond the movie itself, while simultaneously giving rise to the suspicion that it’s equally culpable of cashing in on the trends it seeks to highlight and disgrace.
When one character describes the web as “a jungle” and another laments the sickening content that is widely available online – whether it’s pornography or the beheading of a US journalist [Daniel Pearl] – the movie succeeds in raising some intelligent points.
But by pandering to the need to show some of the crimes in their gory detail – albeit fleetingly – is it not equally to blame for the growth in this type of torture porn content? Or is Hoblit pointing the finger at audiences whose continued presence at such movies enables more to be made?
Unfortunately, Untraceable cannot quite maintain such thought-provoking levels of intelligence throughout and the final third becomes horribly tied to genre cliché, as the killer’s identity and motives are revealed too soon and Lane’s detective becomes yet another woman in peril and falls prone to stupid decision making.
That said, the cast is on good form with Lane, especially, standing out as a sensitive FBI agent in the Clarice Starling mould, and Billy Burke bringing a great deal of sensitivity to his role as a fellow cop who respects Marsh without feeling the need to jump straight into bed with her (refreshing, indeed). Colin Hanks is also good fun as a fellow FBI cyber monitor whose wise-cracks help to lighten the mood at times.
Untraceable may arrive at the wrong end of the torture porn avalanche but to dismiss it purely as such would be wrong. It’s a worthy addition to the serial killer genre that’s slick, exciting and competently executed, while also having something a little more worthwhile to say.
Running time: 100mins
UK DVD Release: June 23, 2008