The 2013 film The Den, directed by Zachary Donohue, has been sitting in my Netflix list for a while now. Found footage films usually appeal to me, but the premise and look of the movie reminded me too much of Feardotcom, so it stirred up some traumatic flashbacks of a horrible fucking movie. Also, there’s a creepypasta vibe to the plot as well, and that’s not exactly a great sign. A woman named Elizabeth is doing a project involving a social media website called, of course, “The Den” (which has such a creepy connotation, no one would ever name their site that), so she’s chatting constantly with strangers at random via webcam. Cue: Snuff! Torture! Hacking! This is the kind of stuff Reddit users are squirming excitedly over when they’re writing about the “deep web.”
And yet, despite these damning details, this horror movie is actually good.
To deflect all protests of, “Nobody uses videochat this much!” I give you this: Imagine a world where…. people did. This is a fictional movie, after all, and the idea is not really that unbelievable. Also, the frequent use of Snapchat is comparable, so combine that with Omegle and Skype, and voila, you have “The Den.” Yeah, people don’t actually do what the characters in the movie do, but just pretend this is happening 10 years in the future or something.
The format of the movie is really interesting, and almost identically resembles the clips I’ve seen from the film Unfriended (2014). Since I haven’t actually seen Unfriended, I can’t say which movie did it better. The Den does a pretty damn good job of it though, all of the events of the film being shown via desktop and phone cam. There is a combination of text and video alongside each other as well. The whole format made my brain feel like I wasn’t watching a movie. The familiar image of the mouse moving across the screen, scrolling through email, all of that had this effect of making me feel as if I was just perusing the internet—and coming across some fucked up stuff. A different feel than the average movie experience.
The thing that I found really made it a good horror movie was the timing and pacing. There is some humor that really helps you relax (THERE’S A PENIS HOLY SHIT THERE’S AN ACTUAL PENIS, IT’S JUST LIKE IRL) before fucking with you again, ever so briefly, then returning back to normal. For veterans of the interwebs, this is a day in the life. Horrifying fucked up shit—a meme. Whatever. The escalation of the conflict is well-paced and unnerving, subtle but effective.
Then there’s what nobody ever comes across (well, aside from things like the Dnepropetrovsk maniacs video and the unfortunate like), an oddly exciting topic for us sick millenials—a snuff video. The way the movie goes about doing this was actually pretty scary; particularly, I enjoyed the coupling of sound and still images, or mismatched sound with video. The photo of the smiling girl creeped me out more than any of the stuff at the end of the movie, and when that suddenly shifted to video, I was surprisingly disturbed.
And then we hit our peak of realism for this movie, something extremely rare when it comes to horror movies….
Elizabeth immediately goes to the police.
Well, thank god. This didn’t make the movie go from zero to stupid fantasy world immediately, thus I remained into the movie. And it makes some sense the police can’t do much about a vague video online. It’s hard to say if the police reaction is realistic at first. By the end of the movie I was like, “Okay, these guys are just fucking idiots.” But cops do suck, so I suppose that common knowledge is enough to allow it to make some sense. However, the presence of cops still ends up defusing any possible realistic quality by the end of the movie. This is one of the big issues with horror movies. When they don’t call the cops, it’s like. “What the fuck?” But then when they do, the response and outcomes also don’t make sense.
The ending was a bit drawn out, but I actually liked it. Yeah, obviously that would never happen, blah blah blah, but I still think the final scene was a nice end to the movie, and I also wasn’t quite expecting it.
Despite the fact that I thought this was a great horror movie, I must complain about two things: God! The video static and glitches! Cutting in and out! Is there no way to escape this? Even on a webcam? Why does every found footage movie have to contain this?! I didn’t mind it before, but I’m beginning to grow irritated at its presence in movies. Also, putting GoPros on the victims heads? I think this could have been thought out a little differently, but whatever, I took it in stride.
The idea of hacking and people outcomputering you has been topical for a while. Everyone’s Uncle Bobby is terrified of viruses and hackers, and with the whole NSA business, the film strikes a nerve involving webcams and the internet. Truly, there is a lot of potential for fucked up shit on the internet. This we can all agree on. Mix all that in with well-timed scares and plot pacing, effectively constructed format, and you have a movie worth watching.
The Den is currently available for streaming on Netflix.