THE DEN promo art
THE DEN
(aka HACKED)

(2013, US)

3 and a half stars  

directed by: Zachary Donohue
starring: Melanie Papalia, David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Matt Riedy, Katija Pevec, Saidah Arrika Ekulona, Anthony Jennings, Victoria Hanlin

choice dialogue:

“The question remains: who is really out there?”

- do we ever really know?

slash with panache?

 

[review by JA Kerswell]

   THE DEN
  Not all is what it seems in THE DEN.

THE DEN provides yet another twist on the slasher movie. Proving, once again, that the subgenre adapts, changes and stays ever-relevant. Despite being over a decade old at the time of writing this review - especially given how quickly technology-based thrillers tend to age - it remains a salient reminder of the dangers of the internet through a slasher lens. You never really know who is behind a keyboard. Simply a harmless troll or a psycho lurking out there in the anonymity of cyberspace?

Liz (Melanie Papalia), a young research student, secures a grant to stay online 24/7 to interact with all facets of humanity through a ChatRoulette-style website called The Den. She expects to see the best and weirdest of society. At first, her enthusiasm carries her through despite the letches, the weirdos and the willy wavers. She is so engrossed that she refuses to leave her apartment much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Damien (David Schlachtenhaufen). Also clearly infatuated with her, Max (Adam Shapiro), provides tech support from a distance and her friend Jenni (Katija Pevec) even drops by to sample Liz’s ever-changing roster of online strangers. During one session a static picture of a smiling young woman appears with the username paygrl*16. Initially, they think her webcam has broken, but Jenni becomes unnerved when the user sends abusive messages when Liz is briefly away from the screen.

   THE DEN
  Although not always at the forefront, THE DEN has a strong slasher angle.

Despite this, Liz continues with her studies. However, due to her lack of knowledge of cybersecurity, she is unwittingly hacked and her computer is controlled remotely. Her funding is withdrawn after a video taken of her having sex without her knowledge is sent to her university professor. She becomes obsessed with who is behind the hack and attempts to unravel their identity with the help of her friends. Only, she has attracted the very worst of the internet and has put herself and those she loves in danger as a killer in a sackcloth mask starts to not only cyberstalk but also stalk them in real life. Initially, the police dismiss her concerns as a hoax, so Liz must investigate alone as one-by-one her friends disappear …

The social media horror film was a natural progression from found footage movies that proliferated after the mega success of THE BLAIR WITH PROJECT (1999). THE DEN was an early adopter of this approach - and arguably the first social media horror movie. The advantage to low-budget filmmakers is clear, but there has to be talent in front and behind the camera to make it work. Whilst not quite as disturbing as the bleakest of the found footage movies - such as THE POUGHKEEPSE TAPES (2007) or MEGAN IS MISSING (2011) - the film maps a compelling and frankly at times terrifying descent into the darkest realms of the internet. Like HALLOWEEN (1978) - before it was retconned by its 1981 sequel that introduced the familial brother angle - the scariness comes from the randomness of evil. All of us could be one click away from attracting the attention of a psycho. It really is a game of roulette.

   THE DEN
  Evil - and willy wavers - live online ...

Unlike many of the social media horror movies that followed, THE DEN eschews any supernatural elements and in its second half firmly takes a slasher route (albeit within the confines of its structure). Owing a nod to the relatively recent extreme thrillers such as HOSTEL (2005) the film starts with a lightness of touch and whimsy before getting increasingly ever more macabre. Arguably it doesn’t quite stick the landing with an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink ending - the type that was very much en vogue at the time. Still, the journey of getting there is intriguing and well worth a watch.

THE DEN opened concurrently to limited release in theatres and video-on-demand in the United States in March 2014. The year before it had been a surprise modest hit at Russian and Ukranian theatres during a wide release. It beat the much better-known social media horror movie UNFRIENDED (2014) to the punch. Although the latter scared up a sizeable box office where THE DEN went relatively unseen - which is a shame as it still packs a punch.

 

THE DEN is available to stream via Amazon Prime in some territories.

 

BODYCOUNT  bodycount!   female: 3 / male: 4

1) Female has her throat slit
      2) Male killed (method unseen)
      3) Female dies after her wrists are cut
      4) Male hit in the face with a hammer
      5) Male found dead
      6) Male stabbed to death
      7) Male suffocated
      8) Male beaten to death
      9) Female shot dead

 

 

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