Running Time: 100 mins
Rated: Rated MA15+ (strong violence and themes)
This is quite an alarming film, not only in its topic and treatment but in its implications about the use of the Internet.
One of the problems of this kind of story is that it deals with ugly realities (or ugly hypotheses) and it is difficult to know how much detail to show, how much should be presented by suggestion rather than straightforwardly so that the impression of exploiting the material rather than exploring it is communicated.
The intentions of the film-makers here are not exploitative but the nastiness of the theme will make many audiences wonder.
This is a film about a serial killer, something that is not particularly new. What seems like a number of random and cruel killings are eventually found to be linked. The FBI are on the case with a range of agents, especially those now employed to investigate computer crime. Principal agent is played by Diane Lane, a widow with an 8 year old daughter, who uses her wits but also experiences physical danger. It is a role that in the past would have been played by a man. Diane Lane does it with effective concentration and vigour, especially in some final heroics.
The problem is that the insane killer is abducting victims and showing the torture and deaths on an untraceable website called Killwithme. The alarming aspect is that the killer (who is revealed to have more than a grudge against the television media) invites people to log on to watch, the more hits on the site, the more quickly the victim dies exposed to the sick and/or curious gaze of the net surfers and warped customers.
One of the realities in making a film which crusades about a cause is that it can be done quite effectively as a documentary but will have a limited audience. It is more cogent if made as a story in a feature film format which engages audience interest and works on their emotions. The trouble here is that, despite our revulsion at the behaviour of those who log on (in their increasing millions) and who watch torture and death, we are tantalised, at least on the level of curiosity, and this can be alarming to our image of ourselves.
This is why Untraceable might be a useful film for discussion of these dreadful issues with audiences knowing in their mind how revolting this is but having to admit that we can be caught up in such experiences.
Gregory Hoblit has made a number of tough crime thrillers after his experiences on television series like Hill Street Blues. His Primal Fear is one of the best of courtroom dramas and murder mysteries. His 2007 thriller, Fracture, with Anthony Hopkins trying to cover the perfect murder were well made, thought-provoking films on disturbing subjects.
Not the kind of film one can generally recommend but it is well-made, horrifying and raises themes which need fearless facing and which need to be dealt with.
Universal Out April 24
Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.