Friday, 29 January 2016

open windows

open windows is kind of like an ultra-modern take on rear window that somehow comes off as more old fashioned. i'll explain.

the film follows fanboy nick chambers (elijah wood) who has won a contest to meet his idol, superstar actress jill goddard (sasha grey). nick soon realises he's been set up by a malevolent hacker who is using nick's obsession to make him a scapegoat in a kidnapping plot. nick must figure out a way to save jill without alerting the hacker who is watching their every move.

the thing that makes open windows different is that the whole film is told via a computer screen, with the camera zooming in and out of the various windows open on nick's desktop. while this at first seems incredibly limiting, director nacho vigalondo (who directed my favourite part of v/h/s viral as well as the excellent time crimes) manages to take us almost anywhere via the desktop without ever stretching our suspension of disbelief too far. it is at times an incredibly exhilarating new way to tell a story and further proof that vigalondo is a true innovator.

the story itself works for the most part and there are some great moments of tension, particular when nick is trying to evade the police whilst talking to about three different people via his laptop. there are probably one or two twists too many, but where it fell down for me was with the characters. it's partly because the story is so fast-paced but it feels like we never really get to know anyone before we're thrown into the action with them. as a result some of the decisions made by the characters and some of their emotional changes seem to come from nowhere. even the hacker, played brilliantly by neil maskell, makes some pretty random choices towards the end and becomes a caricature of a movie villain as a result.

i did wonder if some of this was deliberate. the film opens with a clip from jill goddard's latest movie, which plays like a parody of a big summer blockbuster. one of the theme's of the film is about how we perceive stars and jill's overall story arc is one of escape, not just from her kidnapper but from the hollywood prison that stops her living her life the way she wants to. this is an interesting idea and one worthy of examination, except the theme, like jill herself, is ultimately a side-plot. there's a moment that perhaps sums up why this didn't work for me.

so towards the end of the first act, jill is forced to strip on camera. through nick's eyes this is supposed to be an incredibly uncomfortable, awkward scene and it could so easily have been played this way if we as an audience had any choice in the matter. instead, the 'camera' zooms in on jill's window so we see the whole thing. it is an awkward and uncomfortable moment as intended, but it's awkward because the director is making us watch it in close-up. found footage movies give filmmakers an opportunity to present a reality and give the viewer the choice of what they focus on in that reality. the really great found footage movies, films like lake mungo and even the first paranormal activity, really make the most of that so that the viewer becomes involved in the story. here, that choice is taken away because we are forced to look at what the director wants us to look at, and what he wants us to look at is a woman taking her clothes off.

i can't help feeling that open windows could have told almost exactly the same story with the same beats in a much more effective way by putting the focus on jill rather than nick. jill has the more compelling story anyway, and placed in her shoes the themes around how we view and what we expect of women in films could really have been explored. but this isn't a film about that. ultimately, this is a film about control and about how men are pulling the strings. it's hard to really explain that without spoiling the ending, but that is what it's about. that brings me back to my opening sentence, because the end result is a film that is so backward in its representation of gender roles that it makes rear window look positively transgressive. to put it simply, rear window is a film in which the traditional male hero is emasculated and has to give up control to his female partner. open windows is a film in which a modern male hero, a computer geek, has all the power and the female character is relegated to being tied up, beaten and abused via a variety of p.o.v. shots.

i'm not saying you shouldn't watch this film and i still think vigalondo is a genius, i just think there are some serious problems with the narrative and open windows feels like a wasted opportunity as a result. which is a shame because i badly wanted to like this film.

the found footage blogathon will run from 27th january to 3rd february, in which time i plan to review as many films as possible and maybe throw in a few extras as well. if you'd like to be involved and post your own content, send me a link via twitter with the tag #foundfootageblogathon. i'll retweet your link and will include it in a summary post next week. you can find a full list of the films i'll be reviewing here.

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