Review: THE DEN (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 8 September 2014

Review: THE DEN (2014)

4.5 stars
THE DEN is a rare gem of a near-perfect thriller masterpiece that cleverly done as a cautionary tale of an internet video chat goes wrong in a Hitchcockian mould for the web-savvy generation.

Shot in 2012 before subsequently acquired by IFC Midnight at the end of last year in 2013, Zachary Donohue's feature debut for THE DEN is certainly blessed with a terrific premise: a Hitchcockian-like thriller (think 1954's REAR WINDOW) set in the world of internet video chat, webcams, cell phones and GoPros which is said to be based from co-writer Lauren Thompson's real-life experience when she first got a job for chatting with various people and encounters many creeps and weirdos.


When Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) receives a grant from the university to study random people she encounters from a popular online video-chat service called "The Den", her job seems like a piece of cake. Throughout her experiment, she faces all kind of strangers, ranging from perverts, pranksters, con artists to real people that really wants to make friends with her. But nothing comes worse than she ever witnessed when she thought she saw a real murder happened live on the internet. Even after she calls the police, there is nothing much they can do about it since they are lacking of solid evidence to piece everything together. Then one night, she discovers her boyfriend Damien (David Schlachtenhaufen) goes missing. Worst still, the killer has somehow manages to hack into her computer and begins messing up her life in many ways.
First-time feature writer and director Zachary Donohue really knows well about depicting the ugly side of using internet video chat. Imitating the similar scenario that anybody will encounter in real life when comes to chatting with random strangers, watching this movie, which is brilliantly shot from the computer screen's point-of-view, feels all the more creepy and voyeuristic that is so close to home. Together with his co-writer Lauren Thompson, they manage to find clever ways to incorporate a mix of various dramatic and sometimes absurd moments of how different people would go to interact, converse or perform in front of the computer screen.

But what makes THE DEN such a great thriller is a subtle understanding of making the genre really works to its favour as well as the smooth transition that director Zachary Donohue manages to escalate the level of tension and violence from time to time as the movie goes on. Since the movie is primarily viewed from the first person's perspective, it becomes increasingly frightening when such simple but highly-effective scene like a killer manages to take control of Elizabeth's laptop remotely in the middle of the night without her knowing it at all. Just imagine how creepy it can be if this happens to you in real life. By successfully tapping the basic paranoia and fear upon those who are familiar with internet video chats and the likes, THE DEN feels legitimately scary like right down to the breathtaking conclusion that grabs you hard by the throat and never let go until the bitter end.

The casts here are all relatively unknown, but they are miles better than most young actors played in a studio horror picture. Melanie Papalia gives a tour de force performance as the level-headed Elizabeth who doesn't realizes the consequences she has getting herself into. Unlike most female lead in a horror genre who tends to do stupid things, Papalia's character feels more plausible because she uses her wits and mind to solve matter, not screaming all the time like a damsel in distress.

The first scene where a boy manages to trick Elizabeth into witnessing "monster in the closet"; the first shocking scene where Elizabeth witnesses a helpless young girl being held captive by a masked man and ends up getting the throat brutally slit; the brief but disturbing parody involving a game of "Russian Roulette" filmed from the revolver's point-of-view; and the tense finale that sees Elizabeth tries to break free from not one, but more mysterious kidnappers lurking all over the basement.

As with a movie that relies heavily on gimmick to stretch a story from the beginning until the end, there are times the POV moments looks too good to be true or rather exaggerated.


For those who already grow sick of found-footage horror movie, you should really give THE DEN a chance. It's unlike anything you have seen before (well, at least for me), and it's kind of unknown little thriller that truly deserves more attention than most generic, like-minded thrillers that come out from the Hollywood machine these days.

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