28th Aug2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘Open Windows’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Elijah Wood, Neil Maskell, Sasha Grey, Ivan Gonzalez, Nacho Vigalondo | Written by Nacho Vigalondo, Daniel Mas | Directed by Nacho Vigalondo

openwindows-grey

A hi-tech thriller in the vein of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows is played out via webcams, computer screens and phone cameras. The film sees Elijah Wood star Nick Chambers, webmaster of a site devoted to movie star Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) who is in Austin to promote her new schlocky sci-fi horror flick. Nick is in town as the winner of an online competition to meet and greet Jill while she is in Austin. Unfortunately his prize is a hoax; it’s all an elaborate scam set up by mysterious superfan Chord for him to play a part in an audacious plan to kidnap the actress.

Following his appearance in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies it seems actor Elijah Wood has been spending his time off that film set making the kinds of movies he wants to see, often playing against type in the likes of Maniac and now here in Open Windows, where Wood seems to be channeling the spirit of Anthony Perkins for his role of webmaster turned scapegoat. Whilst Neil Maskell makes for a compelling villain, even though all we hear from him is the distinctive tones of his British accent (it would seem director Nacho Vigalondo has watched one too many American action movies, having cast a Brit in yet another villainous role).

The real surprise in Open Windows is Sasha Grey, an actress I know mainly for her enthusiastic performances in many an adult movie, who has come a long way since her role in Smash Cut, the low-budget horror from Lee Demarbre that played Frightfest way back in 2009. Here she gives the same free-spirited performance that brought her critical acclaim during her brief run on HBO’s Entourage, and her scenes opposite Maskell towards the end of the film are truly captivating. The fact she out-acts the rest of the cast is a testament to just how well she takes to the role.

If there’s one thing you can say about director Nacho Vigalondo’s latest horror movie is that there must have been a LOT of planning and forethought put into what is one of the most creative uses of technology I’ve seen in some time. It’s just a shame the films story can’t match up to the fantastically creative look of the movie. Open Windows start of in tremendous fashion, with plot twists a plenty and pacing that keeps the audience on edge – demanding the audiences attention as the action unfolds on screen. But whilst the pacing never lets up, the plot soon descends into complete madness – so much so that the end of the film features (and needs) as much exposition as an episode of Poirot!

But that big final reveal? Well that negates everything that has happened before it, almost making a mockery of the entire film. It’s such a left-field twist that an entire set of characters is rendered moot. It’s one of those reveals that thinks it’s cleverer than it actually is, instead of making the audience think “Wow, I didn’t se that coming” it makes you think “What the f–k? If [redacted for fear of spoilers] then why the hell did he need [redacted for fear of spoilers]?” And then there’s the ridiculous and clunky epilogue, which only serves to reinforce the notion that Grey’s character what’s to disappear/retire (and by reinforce I mean hit the audience over the head with a brick); an epilogue that could easily have been excised from the film without consequence.

Like watching someone else play an updated version of the controversial Mega CD game Night Trap, Open Windows is more a movie-going experience that a traditional story-driven film. The true definition of style over substance. And whilst it will undoubtedly be hailed as the future of the found-footage format, straight to DVD horror The Den used the same central concept in a much more successful, and terrifying, fashion…

*** 3/5

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