Untraceable (2008) dir. Gregory Hoblit
Starring: Diane Lane, Colin Hanks, Billy Burke, Mary Beth Hurt
“Untraceable” is a dreadful excuse for a serial killer thriller. Its ‘topicalness’ is in-your-face with a preachy message about the dangers of internet identity theft and how our communal bloodlust can result in horrific acts of violence at the touch of a button. What stars out as a cool hybrid film idea – “Silence of the Lambs” for the internet generation - regresses into sub-standard torture-porn.
Diane Lane is Special Agent Jennifer Marsh, who heads an internet fraud and security task force with the FBI. Her life is turned upside down when a new breed of internet hacker emerges in cyber-space who kidnaps victims and tortures and kills them publicly on the internet. Instead of doing the killing himself, he sets up elaborate devices which links to the number of hits on the site. For example, a man is strapped into a hot water tank, which slowly increases in temperature as more people visit the site to the point where the scolding water eventually kills the man.
Jennifer and her team, including handsome detective Eric Box (Billy Burke) and geeky web-nerd Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) hunt down the elusive cyber-killer. But the deeper Jennifer gets into the case, the more she alienates her family. When her young daughter is targeted by the killer suddenly the case gets personal which raises the stakes for the team to find the killer before the next victim is caught.
Within minutes I could name who was going to die, who would live, who would need to be saved at the last minute, who would sacrifice himself in order to expose the killer etc etc. The film plays out its plot points with ‘screenwriter 101’ efficiency and never rises above the formula to interest us beyond the ‘hook.’ It seems as if the writers spent more time dreaming of the elaborate torture devices than crafting a suspense plot to pull us along and keep us guessing. The film therefore settles into what could have been another entry in the ‘Saw’ franchise.
“Untraceable” was directed by Gregory Hoblit, the king of run-of-the-mill Hollywood thrillers such as “Primal Fear”, “Fallen”, “Frequency”, “Fracture”. Hoblit’s thrillers are uncannily similar – they each feature a serial killer of some sort with a high-concept twist on the 'cat & mouse', 'cops & killers' formula. In “Primal Fear”, the killer was a psychopath who hid behind his dual personality. In “Fallen” the killer is a ghost that possesses other people's bodies in order to continue his killing, and in “Frequency” a father and son team tracks their killer via a time-linking ham radio. Unfortunately “Untraceable” is the weakest film of this bunch.
There’s an obvious preachy message about our society’s (and the audience’s) own responsibility in aggrandizing salacious murder/serial killer stories. It’s an obvious catch 22 because the more success this film gets the more chance a real internet psycho will copy the idea and start his own kill-site. “Untraceable” is therefore only a notch above ‘Faces of Death’.
“Untraceable” is available on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment on May 13.