Colourful exploration of the dangers of the internet without finding the heart to invest in the human side of the material.
Colourful exploration of the
dangers of the internet without finding the heart to invest in the human side
of the material.
on an award winning play, directed by a certified thriller maverick and
starring one of film’s biggest up and comers, Chatroom should have been one of
last years must see movies. Instead it was previewed at The Cannes Film
Festival to a thoroughly underwhelmed audience and as such slipped under the
radar upon its cinematic release. The problem is that for all its ideas and
attempts at originality it never manages to step outside its theatrical
alienated by their parents and peers a group of teenagers form a bond while in
an Internet Chatroom. On the surface they air their problems, but one of their
number, William (Johnson), is
quietly manipulating them into misbehaving. However, when reclusive Jim (Beard) begins to show suicidal
tendencies William will takes his game too far and it is up to the rest of the
group to figure out his twisted plot.
of the major problems Chatroom faces is that it is a film very much in the
zeitgeist of addressing the perils of online interaction. While the members of
the Chatroom are never sure who they are actually communicating with, we are.
This aspect was better utilised in last year’s Catfish which created considerably more tension by keeping one
side’s identity firmly locked away from both the characters on screen and us.
Furthermore, the concept of human interactions being sterile and forced online
was just the tip of the iceberg in The
Social Network and better rendered as a result.
Nakata, who has always excelled with
a visual flair in films like Ring (1998)
and Dark Water (2002), feels
stagnated by the constraints implemented by the script. His cyber space reality
however is vibrantly colourful with an acidic burn to the visuals, perfectly
implying the untold dangers within this world. Outside of the online realm the
world is painted as grey, far less interesting than the one the characters
experience on their computers making it easy to understand why they would want
to retreat into it.
problem is that the Chatroom is represented by an actual room, therefore while
the characters sit at their computers, something which would be thoroughly
uninteresting to watch, we see them physically interacting with each other in
this representation of their minds. It is a device that could have worked, but
we know these characters cannot be physically hurt in this world. Unlike say
The Matrix, where if you die in there you die in reality, there is never any
threat while in these rooms. If it all gets too much the characters can simply
log-off and make themselves a slice of toast. This is made all the more vague
when William finds a ‘bullying’ chatroom wherein one boy is repeatedly hounded
by others until he kills himself. You have to wonder why this child continued
to return to the room.
it may have worked on the stage the screenplay forces the actors to deliver
fairly broad dialogue. As such it feels too expositional for film and results
in the performances feeling ‘acted’ rather than believable characters. Johnson,
whose star metre won’t be affected by this minor blip, does evil well enough
but is never a protagonist you can route for. Unlike a Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000) there is little
to draw you into William, meaning that you only ever view him as a spoilt brat.
Beard, as the suicidal Jim, presents enough angst but never evokes any pathos
for us to truly care for his plight. As such the rest of the characters fit
nicely into stereotypes of ditzy, nerd or rebel without ever leaving a lasting
concept is solid and Nakata’s direction tries to break from the material but
overall Chatroom fails to engage. By the end you expect the Hollyoaks theme tune to kick in and a
voice say “If you have been affected by any of these issues” only to discover
that this was taking itself considerably more seriously than the teen soap
opera. As William asks one of his fellow Chatroomers “You didn’t think I cared
about your little identity crisis?” By this standard, why should we?