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Review: 'Open Windows' is a dumb thriller that will make a thrilling academic paper

Fanboy Elijah Wood tries to save good girl Sasha Grey in a film set entirely on a computer desktop.

‘Open Windows’
Director:
Nacho Vigalando
Stars: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

“Open Windows” is a silly thriller that will make a banging cinema studies paper. Some of it is even reminiscent of Harun Farocki, the late German deconstructionist filmmaker who liked, in his later years, to tinker with the limits and faults in digital imagery. Plot is merely there to work out ideas, some of them cultural, some of them aesthetic, some of them merely cute in a meta nudge-nudge way without being cloying.

That’s not to say plot doesn’t matter. Indeed it starts off crackerjack. Elijah Wood plays Nick Chambers, who runs one of those fanboy sites for a specific actress — in this case Jill Goddard, the star of a popular zombie sci-fi franchise who’s known for never taking off her clothes. She’s played by porn star Sasha Grey. Nick has been invited to a Comic-Con-type con at which she’s appearing, where he’ll be meeting her, having won a contest to have dinner with the star of his creepy site.

As Nick streams her appearance from his hotel room, he gets a call from a man, Chord (Neil Haskell), who says he works for the contest, which he announces has been abruptly cancelled, at her command. Chord is sympathetic, as well as something of a hacker. He gives Nick a feed of a camera looking down on her cleavage; then he gives him access to her phone. One thing leads to another, and Chord soon reveals he’s not who he says he is, is more powerful than he seems and may have unkind plans for Jill, which could make Nick a savior.

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The best (and un-underlined) joke in “Open Windows” is that at this point in technology advancements, a pasty-faced fansite-runner like Nick is benign, even heroic, compared to what the worst can now do. “Open Windows”’ timing couldn’t be better if it was Hollywood-scripted. Viewed in the wake of the Celebgate, it’s eerily spot on in its diagnosis of how celebrity culture has turned not only obsessive but invasive and abusive — that people not only want to know everything about the rich and famous but have access to their possessions too.

But “Open Windows” is more than topical. The entire film is technically set on a single computer desktop, unfolding in a series of streaming windows, which pop up or are zoomed in on. This has been done before; perhaps someone remembers the decade-old indie “On_Line,” which unfolded over a series of live chat screens. What it most resembles, though, is Kevin B. Lee’s genius desktop documentary“Transformers: The Premake,”which playfully examined how modern blockbusters have wrangled the Internet into helping make and sell their product.

Director Nacho Vigalando — who also did the not-quite-“Primer”-level time travel horror “Timecrimes” — loves keeping his screens busy and moving. But he also delves into how we can no longer trust what we see — how the images we most look at to create our own tailored version of reality can be faked or manipulated. At one point he even plays with distorted images from inside a car, where the people are rendered in boxy, in human shapes. (This is the part that vaguely looks like Farocki.) Movies have been set in digital worlds, but this is the first one that actually looks it.

There’s a lot on “Open Windows” mind — again, this will make for fine academic prowling — to the point that we can more or less ignore that it strains credibility at least around the 30 minute mark, if not earlier. There are too many convolutions, and ultimately a couple very cheap cheats, required to keep this machine running. It truly is a film at once smart and super dumb.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter@mattprigge
 
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