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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 10.01.14] horror thriller

In a twist I don't think anyone who watched the trailers saw coming, Nacho Vigalondo's experimental thriller Open Windows not only works, it might just be the most timely thriller of the year.

The premise is a real groaner: A thriller as seen only through multiple open windows on a laptop. Specifically, a laptop belonging to Elijah Wood's celebrity obsessed Nick.

On paper that premise feels gimmicky and almost antiquated in our hyper computer-literate world, but because of the film's sleazy subject matter, and in light of some recent events that have rocked people's perceptions of privacy and safety online, Open Windows manages to transcend what could have been nothing more than a nifty idea.

Here's why:

Sasha Grey plays actress Jill Goddard, star of a fictional scifi horror series called Dark Sky. She's in Austin to promote her upcoming film at Fantastic Fest and Nick, her biggest fan and the webmaster of a popular fan site, sits alone in a hotel watching her panel online and waiting to meet her as the winner of a dinner content.

As Nick watches the panel alone in a room on his laptop we're already in a strange world of dislocation and isolation where digital voyeurism provides the illusion of intimacy and, perhaps most shockingly, ownership of the subject.

When a man claiming to be Jill's campaign manager contacts Nick on his computer to tell him the contest has been cancelled, he offers Nick the opportunity to hack into her phone and computer to track her movements through the night - eventually blackmailing her into a peep show.

Two men plotting the movements and manipulating the fate of a celebrity through electronic surveillance and hacking? As I viewed the film, I couldn't help but feel the weight of the recent celebrity hacking scandal on the film and the whole thing felt very, very possible. Add on the UK phone hacking scandal and the NSA's Prism surveillance program and Open Windows' concept starts to feel like more than a way for a film to tell a goofy story. I'll be honest, it got to me, and had me feeling a little paranoid about being so tied to electronic devices.

But all that aside, I'm sure you want to know how Open Windows plays as a film experience. The answer is a messy, but ultimately satisfying experience. Transitions from window-to-window are executed fairly seamlessly so the narrative flows well, but by the second act, as the film starts to throw in some twists and turns and the notion of pre-recorded content, it starts to become tough to follow some aspects of the plot. And that ending... wtf?

One could argue a little confusion makes Open Windows better on repeated viewings and I could buy that. I'm curious to see the film again.

Stylistically, Vigalondo s firing on all cylinders and it's hard not to spot homages to everything from Giallo to Hitchcock, to indie scifi. He's having fun with this film and his enthusiasm for the medium comes through to great effect.

Open Windows is available now for pre-order on iTunes. It will be on VOD on October 2 and in select theaters on November 7.

The film asks you to swallow a lot in terms of it's depiction of hacking, but it's worth a watch if you're a fan of unique thrillers.

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