Things haven’t looked good for the popularity of the horror genre for a while. In a society where we have instant access to the information superhighway, the notion of mystery appears to be a relic of the past. There can be no shock value if there is no mystery, which is why in recent years, many horror directors have turned to gratuitous sexual violence and gore to keep fans of the genre compelled.
In an age where we can fully rationalize and pastiche the things that prevented our parents from sleeping at night, effective subject matter for horror films is slowly decreasing in volume and poignancy. The art of scaring somebody is perhaps one of the most difficult and meticulous cinematic endeavors to pull off to a high standard, which is why recycling old premises for scary movies and dumping blood and boobs on them has proved to be (mostly) ineffectual.
But what happens when the methods we use to expose and understand our deepest, darkest fears becomes compromised? What happens when the very vessel of technology becomes corrupted and adopts a sinister façade? The Den is the future of horror. It exploits our blind trust of technology and social media and weaves a dark picture of what happens when our reliance on these things gets way, way out of hand.
For those of you who have grown weary of the found footage genre, The Den actually achieves maximum poignancy through the use of this cinematic device. The film is composed using simulated video chat conversations complete with lag and loading time for that extra dose of realism, making it eerily relatable for every viewer that uses their iPhone or a laptop on a frequent basis.
The plot revolves around Elizabeth (Melanie Paplia), who is given an academic grant to conduct an online social experiment. The premise of her experiment is to see how many people she can interact with on a chat room called The Den (modeled after Chat Roulette), so she spends day in and day out avoiding the rampant Internet masturbators and general weirdoes while trying to connect with as many sane people as possible.
It’s all innocent (albeit, often penis related) fun until Elizabeth comes across a user whose webcam appears to be broken and whose strange methods of communication do not sit well with her. Elizabeth’s life changes forever after she witnesses what appears to be a real murder on the mysterious user’s account, and we are reminded why it’s never a good idea to talk to strangers, even if they appear to be hiding behind a screen.
Horror films about technology gone awry have been around for a while (along the lines of The Poltergeist, Feardotcom and Pulse to name a few) but The Den possesses the subtlety and detailed back-story that makes it a genuinely disturbing cinematic experience. Innovation in horror is usually received with open arms (if done properly, of course), so exposing the duplicitous and dangerous side of social media – something we often take for granted – enables the genre to evolve according to our 21st century fears and anxieties. The acting is believable, the characters are well developed and the plot narrative is substantial and refreshingly unpredictable.
Across the decades, horror has twisted even the most mundane situations to instill fear into our hearts – the possibility of doing the very same to technology appears to be the next logical step. The Den dispels the haunted house/slaughterhouse/road trip gone wrong cliches in favour of a setting that more accurately reflects our cultural milieu: the Internet. This setting evokes a sense of ominousness and intangibility that eliminates any possibility of real physical escape and salvation – there is no true catharsis at all, only violence and despair.
Its a thrilling ride with just the right amount of build up, and its use of the found footage technique has instrumental purpose and isn’t just thrown in as a gimmick. So if you like your horror movies with a dash of futility, subtle social commentary and the perfect amount of gore, The Den just might be the choice for you.