Let me know if you’ve heard this one. On the highway, a frustrating blockage of traffic finally parts to reveal the source of the obstruction, a fatal car accident. Some of you keep your gaze straight ahead and keep on driving, but many will gawk — even if just for a moment — at the dead body stretched out on the concrete. In a completely different scenario, maybe you couldn’t help but watch a couple of internet-broadcasted beheadings of journalists at the hands of Muslim extremists. To switch gears even further, perhaps you’re one of the millions of people who have checked out pictures taken by paparazzi who point their cameras into starlets’ skirts. The providers of this latter sort of imagery often act innocent, as if they’re only giving the public what it wants. Look at us, sacrificing our good name to entertain you, the demanding public. You are forcing us to take these indecent actions. Yet these photo agencies and tabloids certainly don’t mind cashing in on our seeming inability to stop looking. Unfortunately, this last scenario comes closest, not in subject matter but in spirit, to the attitude of Untraceable. This film incriminates its own existence, but it also adds the following caveat: The collective “we” have demanded this horrifying mess of a glorified snuff film.
Director Gregory Hoblit (Fracture, Primal Fear) has woven a sordid and highly derivative tale that, presumably, shall awaken us to the true horror of our voyeuristic tendencies. Apparently, the collective “we” no longer can separate the concepts of right and wrong, and thus, we are in need of this sort of film as a jolt to our hidden humanity. The problem is that, to make its point, Untraceable preys upon every cliché of the seldom celebrated torture-porn subgenre. The audience is subjected to lengthy close-ups of the victims’ suffering, but at the same time, the film attempts to distance itself by pointing its bloody mouse right back at the viewer. To some degree, this sanctimonous attitude should piss us off.
The film is set in dreary Portland, Oregon, where the FBI’s cybercrime division receives a bona fide concerning a serial killer that has a psychopathic preoccupation with his sitemeter. This cretin has set up a snuff website that, somehow, accelerates his victims’ deaths with increased web traffic. Naturally, the site quickly goes viral, and as more people visit, the killer’s victims die faster. Soon, millions of viewers tune in the live-streamed murders that are broadcast in very graphically detailed and brutal sequences of torture. At first, the killer starts out with a tiny, mewing kitten who meets a grisly death, but the killer quickly and predictably progresses on to human victims. One luckless man is intravenously pumped full of blood-thinning medication. Another meets his end under the blistering, burning heat of sunlamps. Still another gets the spa treatment in a bath of sulfuric acid. The lucky federal agent assigned to this case is Special Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane), who becomes unnerved when she cannot, as per her usual method, take the killer’s site down with a few keystrokes. Despite the work of Jennifer and her partner, Eric (Billy Burke), this particular site seems to reroute itself at will, and the killer also seems to have found a solid fanbase on his message board. Scattered amongst the online snuff clips, the film also presents, for our viewing pleasure, news footage of a graphic suicide involving a man shooting his own brains out and tumbling from a bridge. If this sounds disgusting, it damn well should.
While it’s quite easy to dismiss Untraceable for its double-talking jive, the harder truth is that this just isn’t a very good film. With a perpetually clenched jaw, Diane Lane flatly rattles off paragraphs of tech-oriented jargon that nobody really understands or cares about. The assumptions made about technology are also pretty ridiculous, like when the killer manages to gain control of Jennifer’s car. Even more illogical is how the young Marsh daughter is allowed to roam freely on the internet even after Jennifer herself has witnessed the lowest trenches of cyberspace. The daughter surfs unsupervised into chatrooms with webcams that are fully operational. The killer even manages to lure Jennifer’s daughter into a private chat and broadcasts corresponding footage on the site. Somehow, even though Lane’s cyber-detective goes to great lengths to protect the public, she is incredibly stupid when it comes to protecting her own family. The filmmakers also send a mixed message concerning the killer’s ultimate fate, which seems bizarre in regard to the amount of moralization that takes place throughout the film. Finally, the predictable ending lacks any sort of conclusive justice that any audience would expect.
The moral implication of Untraceable is that the millions of visitors to the killer’s site have become accessories to these murders. Accordingly, these willing participants have probably reassured themselves that their single visit, out of millions, had very little impact upon any particular victim’s life span. The filmmakers don’t make conclusions about how or why these justifications occur, since the spectators obviously watched the victims endure great pain. To reiterate, the scenes of brutality and gore are protracted beyond belief. Perhaps this is all meant to send an all-important message about our dumpster of a society, but obviously this crap is also a circus act meant to draw more asses into seats. Detective Marsh tries to warn the public not to visit the snuff site, and by extension, her message seems to be that nobody should watch a film like Untraceable. Obviously, that’s not what any film studio wants, but this film cannot seem to resolve its own set of intentions. Yet at the end of it all, Untraceable feels quite comfortable placing the blame upon its own audience.
Hopefully, the backlash against this so-called torture porn has already progressed to a point where the public won’t attend this finger-wagging monstrosity of a film. Would we ever, without Hollywood wagging its finger towards us, know that craving this sort of violent, disgusting film is wrong? Yeah, I think so.
Agent Bedhead (a.k.a. “Kimberly”) lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be found at agentbedhead.com.Would You? Could You?
Film Reviews | January 26, 2008 | Comments ()