Murder goes viral in cyber thriller Untraceable as a serial killer starts broadcasting the graphic execution of innocent victims on his own website. The fate of each of his tormented captives is left in the hands of the unwitting public: unknown to them the more people who log in to killwithme.com, the closer the tortured soul gets to death. The question facing the specialist FBI Cyber Crimes Division is how do they appeal for help and stop the inquisitive minds of Internet users logging in to the streaming live execution?
Despite all the promise of a cultural study of the seedy and menacing means the Internet could be put to use for by sinister members of the public, Untraceable is as disposable as its online victims. The suggestion that the world wide web is turning modern society into a bunch of thrill-seekers who want to share in even the most morbid experience via streaming video is merely a high concept tool so the film is easier to market. Underneath the enticing set up are typical crime thriller escapades of false raids, acting on hunches and slowly dissecting the shreds of evidence they have to lead them to the killer.
Diane Lane’s Oscar-nominated performance in Unfaithful is not replicated here, her tough-talking FBI agent Jennifer Marsh is indicative of any other on-screen female cop with attitude. Throw in a the fact she is a single mother growing increasing scared for her daughter in this dangerous time we live in, and there is the empathy for her tribulations fighting on the front line of the war on cybercrime. Inevitably she becomes tangled up in the killer’s own games along with the other members of her team, and there is a daft motive for the series of events too. It all follows the crime genre filmmaking textbook.
Fans of the recent ‘torture porn’ horror fad exploited by the Saw series and Captivity among others will enjoy the live, slow killings staged in gruesome detail. Although they lack the visceral impact of the sudden deaths in Saw, watching someone being burnt to a crisp is uneasy viewing material at the best of times. Beyond this, it’s business as usual for an Internet thriller as they struggle to trace where the murders are taking place over using high tech tracking and are forced to resort to good old fashioned detective work.
The promise of Untraceable’s set up is never realised: attempts to make an intelligent social statement about the Internet’s breaking down of broadcasting barriers and audience taboos due to sites such as YouTube are left floating on the surface rather than explored, exposing it as simply a enticer rather than the subject. It’s hard not to fill a little cheated as Primal Fear director Gregory Hoblit settles for making this a gimmick-led hook of a movie that deceives you into thinking it might be more than just a standard serial killer flick. Untraceable would like to be taken seriously and talked about like Se7en, it winds up being entirely forgettable.
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