MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Den’

the den

Film: The Den
Directed by: Zachary Donohue
Starring: Melanie Papalia

A horror film that puts a weird twist on the found footage genre by using webcams? Ok, I feel a little wary here. Base the film on Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Paplia) who is studying human nature (with a murderous twist) through this webcam service called The Den? Okay, you have me interested. Start killing people off in the first 20 minutes and exhaust every horror cliché in the book by the end of the film? Damn, I had SOME faith.

The Den is unfortunately another missed opportunity amongst the massive number of found footage thrillers that are seemingly trying to be ‘different’ than Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project. A sense of tension and redefining of the horror universe that they stood in brought on what those films got right in terms of scares. But unfortunately, this film does not reinvent the wheel and looks like it wants to keep that old raggedy-ass looking wheel spinning.

What could have been a really interesting take on that tired found footage trope along with some truly real and scary messages about human interaction in society today is reduced to a middling horror film. In society today, as The Den should have explored, we have this exciting way of connecting to people from across the world in mere seconds with web chat. Through the study of this societal interaction system, things are deduced about human nature when people are using these services. I would have loved to see a slow-burn thriller as the main character is descended upon a dangerous man using the same Skype-like site as her. But instead, people start dropping like flies around the main character and the police don’t trust her, of course! How convenient!

The main character leaves her computer open and the dangerous group after her starts hacking into her files, leaving most of her work in the dust and destroying a work relationship with her school advisor. Again, every villain must be a mastermind hacker in things as it helps move the plot along easier than any other way. Hey, I have an idea–how about you make a shady figure that has no idea what he is doing with a keyboard and ends up being totally unpredictably brutal in his killings? Good idea, right?

But enough about what made The Den so unoriginal; there are some great tactics to love here. Granted most of them come in the first 20 minutes and the last 5, but I digress. In the beginning of the film, Elizabeth randomizes her chat function so she can get a real taste of what is out there on this social program. She sees the good in people, people willing to tell their life story to a stranger. For a second, it was enlightening to see the good in human nature. Then there were the trolls of the Internet. You know, the ones that ask for nude pictures and the ones that flail their genitals across the screen hoping for a reaction. Then you have the really weird ones that are reliant on you doing whatever they say in some messed up masochistic manner.

After all of that though is when things start to get hairy. Elizabeth witnesses a murder on the program and the user now has control over her whole computer. I’m not an expert but I don’t think that this is how hacking works… Who leaves their computer open when they have sex, too? I most certainly don’t but I guess that is just to serve the plot. The last 5 minutes of the film actually works exactly how I wanted the whole film to work though. Not to spoil anything, but when Elizabeth is being preyed upon, there must be some other person in the world watching it all go down. Humans are savage by nature; there must be some kind of pay-per-view spin to all of this.

The Den, unlike many other found footage films use webcams as a plot device, and for the most part, it works. But unfortunately the plot surrounding that device was never convincing nor entertaining. Even the payoff of seeing Elizabeth get back at these sick ingrates who kill people doesn’t work on an emotional level. Here’s to hoping that someone takes this concept and retools it a bit into a fine film. I would personally love to see another take on this concept/story.

SCORE: D+

Written by: Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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