I’m not going to lie, for this installment of “Horrors of Netflix,” I tried to find the shortest movie possible, but one that also had a terrible enough rating where I would still hate myself for sitting through it and the world around me for allowing it to be made in the first place. As much as I inexplicably enjoy torturing myself with bad horror movies- sometimes 90+ minutes of one feels like an eternity and I need a break to appreciate a condensed version of a cinematic atrocity.
My search yielded 2013’s “The Den.” The synopsis, from Netflix:
“While investigating webcam chat habits, a young woman witnesses a gruesome murder online. Now she and those she loves are being pursued by the killer.”
As someone who occasionally uses the webcam built into my laptop and has made the horrible mistake of visiting Chatroulette before- I’m pretty sure seeing a murder would fall into the “tame” spectrum of things I’ve witnessed on the internet. Is “The Den” a cautionary tale of internet stranger-danger? Or is it an ingenious social commentary on this generation’s blind trust and faith in technology and social networking disguised as a 76 minute horror movie with a 1 1/2 star rating on Netflix?
There’s only one way to find out.
As always, this movie will be spoiled- heavily– under the “Read More” tag, so if you want to see this film for yourself and don’t want to know what happens until you do- TURN BACK NOW. You’ve been warned!
“The Den” starts off from a first person view, with someone signing onto the messenger website on their laptop. The site, much like Chatroulette, connects our main character, who I’m assuming is named Elizabeth based on her username- with other random users. The first, a (presumably) teenage boy who looks like the real life version of one of those stereotypical cartoon illustrations of a space alien. Right off the bat, the interaction between these two is really awkward and not at all natural. The kid is named Billy, and he tells Elizabeth, who says she’s looking for new friends- that there’s a monster in his closet. It’s naturally a prank- a cheap jump scare to get things moving.
Elizabeth is next seen, again from the perspective of someone using the webcam on their laptop, proposing a project to her Professor(s). She will be connecting with people at random throughout the world for the next couple of months, streaming live 24/7, and recording everything she sees. It’s a human nature study- and apparently how the remainder of this movie is going to be filmed. Wonderful.
As it turns out, Elizabeth’s project proposal is to get a grant- which she is rewarded- and immediately jumps into work. By “work,” I mean having Skype-sex with who I’m assuming is her boyfriend while his co-worker peeks over the cubicle. Seriously. It’s the best part of this movie so far.
For the next few minutes, we follow Elizabeth as she explores the wonders of random webcam chats, which predominantly feature dicks, more dicks, guys talking about their dicks, guys asking Elizabeth to get naked on cam, the occasional random person with a broken webcam, and dicks. Elizabeth even gets her friend involved in the webcam action, where we see the entire internet summed up in the following screencap:
It’s after this typical and not at all shocking interaction that we see Elizabeth later has difficulty logging into her account. At one point, her laptop screen even glitches. Later on, as she’s sleeping (and recording herself doing so,) the same account in the aforementioned screencap connects with her. There’s again no video on the other end, but a woman that sounds like she’s screaming for help can be heard until the noise wakes Elizabeth up and she shuts off the connection. The following day, while Skyping with her tech-savvy friend, we find out Elizabeth thought she had turned her camera off the night before- and had no idea how it connected to “The Den” software.
At a cafe, still randomly talking to strangers- the same account shows up. The person on the other end, with no working cam and the same userpic, begins typing compliments to Elizabeth before someone comes over to bring her a coffee and the account promptly disconnects, leaving Elizabeth to deal with the next batshit crazy scene that pops up on her screen.
The project, although going well according to Elizabeth’s e-mail correspondence with her Professors, is visibly putting a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend- who she seems to be neglecting in favor of video chatting. After an icy and brief Skype session with him, we see someone logging onto Elizabeth’s account again- only to see it’s the middle of the night and Elizabeth is fast asleep in her bed- visible from where her webcam is positioned. The camera somehow moves, getting closer to the bed while a hand reaches out to pull the covers off of Elizabeth. It goes for her clothes- which immediately wakes her up. We see it’s her boyfriend- and rather than beat. his. ass. for such an asinine stunt- the two decide to have sex. But not before Elizabeth turns the webcam off.
Or so she thinks. While Elizabeth and her boyfriend are bumping uglies, the camera turns back on- and someone with access to her account proceeds to record the session and save it in her e-mail account. In a movie that hasn’t been scary at all thus far, it’s this gross invasion of privacy that actually gave me chills.
While Elizabeth is blissfully unaware that this has happened, she goes about her business- Skyping with her pregnant sister and dodging Nigerian Prince scams via “The Den” chats. It isn’t until the familiar userpic pops up again and mentions that they saw what happened between Elizabeth and her boyfriend the night before. While Elizabeth is understandably shocked by this, the unknown person’s camera suddenly clicks on. We see a woman, her mouth duct taped- as she is held down by someone and has her throat slashed. As Elizabeth goes to call the police, the account sends an ominous “talk soon” before signing off.
The police are, as in most horror movies- useless- so Elizabeth turns to her tech-savvy friend to look into any possible leads to see if the woman’s murder was legitimate or just some horrible viral prank. He agrees- which means he’s probably going to die- and Elizabeth gets back to work with Skyping strangers- completely forgetting that whoever committed the crime had somehow gained access to her webcam.
While perusing friends of the allegedly murdered woman, Elizabeth finds more creeps and prank videos. Her impassioned plea to “The Den” community for any information that could lead to her whereabouts are met with what can basically be described as the equivalent to the worst YouTube comments ever. It’s just a mess of trolls and racism. Elizabeth voices her frustrations to her boyfriend via Skype, who tells her she should call it quits if she’s that rattled. Instead, Elizabeth takes a phone call- rolling over to grab her phone as we see her boyfriend get into his car where a masked figure is waiting in the backseat. ALWAYS CHECK THE BACKSEAT, GUY. COME ON NOW.
Anyway, the call disconnects. The following day, while Elizabeth is tidying up her apartment/house, her boyfriend’s Skype account connects to share a video. It’s a previously recorded Skype conversation shown earlier in the film, but while Elizabeth is trying to tell him there’s something wrong with his webcam- the video suddenly goes live to the inside of his apartment- which looks completely and totally empty. There is nothing on the floor, walls, anything. Elizabeth leaves her computer running, and from her laptop we can see her and a couple of cops investigating the area while her boyfriend’s webcam films away.
Someone connects to Elizabeth’s account while she’s away, and contacts the friend who had been dicking around with her earlier in the movie when the project first began. The person on Elizabeth’s account says she has a surprise, and urges the friend to come over.
The friend is ambushed, as you’d probably expect.
Elizabeth, having no boyfriend or best friend left- takes out her frustration on her tech-savvy friend when he says he has no way of detecting where the murdered girl originated from due to multiple IP addresses, proxies, and other confusing jargon nobody cares about. Later, while she naps, Elizabeth receives a message from her sister asking when she’ll see her- which is promptly answered by whoever has gained access to her accounts with a cryptic “soon.”
Things go from bad to worse when Elizabeth’s Professor contacts her to video chat. The recording that was made of her and her boyfriend without her knowledge has been apparently forwarded to everyone who got on board to offer her the grant for her project from her own e-mail address. Elizabeth attempts to explain what has been happening, but despite her Professor otherwise being in-the-know when it comes to computers and modern technology, her dumb ass can’t seem to wrap her head around the concept of “hacking,” and she advises Elizabeth she’s pumping the brakes on her project until further notice.
Elizabeth’s boyfriend’s account keeps signing on and offline, prompting Elizabeth to reach out to people on his contacts list and go through old videos and Skype recordings. She finds the one of him being attacked after he gets into his car, and as she’s trying to get someone- anyone with any authority- to take her seriously. Her boyfriend’s account sends her a crudely edited video that features an assortment of archived footage of her, the tape of the woman being murdered on camera, and some creepy and dimly lit room with someone sitting in the middle of it.
The account goes on to send Elizabeth a link, which she foolishly clicks- and her hard drive is completely wiped out within seconds.
Elizabeth’s tech-savvy friend attempts to fix her computer, but since she didn’t back up ANY of her work- it’s a lost cause. He tries to use her terrified, angry, and upset state to his advantage, though- suggesting that maybe her boyfriend is the one who hacked into her computer and compromised her project and grant. If you want to fuck your friend- what better way than by throwing a guy not around to defend himself under the bus, right? Anyway, Elizabeth throws him out and against his suggestion- goes back to trying to video chat.
While out for a run and recording for some reason, Elizabeth receives a message from the previously ambushed and probably dead friend that says she’s home. Rather than call her or text her- Elizabeth just goes to her house.
It goes about as well as you’d expect. Elizabeth’s friend is dead in the bathtub of an apparent suicide- which is “confirmed” when Elizabeth checks her e-mail later on that night and finds a short “goodbye” note from her friend’s account. By now, we all know she was hacked and that it wasn’t a suicide at all. With the police in this movie being uncooperative and pretty lazy, in my opinion, Elizabeth takes matters into her own hands- buying (or stealing) a gun and watching videos on YouTube to learn how to load and fire it- which doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
Later, when her pregnant sister messages her and urges her to video chat- it’s a trap. Elizabeth watches, in horror, as whoever has gained access to her sister’s account records themselves stalking her from within the house. Despite making a phone call to tell her to get out of the house- Elizabeth’s sister is overpowered by a guy wearing the same mask as The Scarecrow from “Batman.” As he binds her hands and duct tapes her mouth, hovering a carving knife dangerously close to her pregnant stomach- someone else begins filming. Wait. There’s two stalkers now? When did this happen?
The near-murder is avoided when the assailants hear sirens and bail, dropping one of their cameras which is recovered by a cop shortly thereafter and… Used to film Elizabeth’s sister on the couch rather than be processed as evidence IMMEDIATELY. What the fuck? Well, as it turns out after a couple of personal and condescending questions about where the father of the baby is- the rent-a-cop is actually in on the crime. He leaves with the camera in tow, still recording, and gets into his car where the Scarecrow-esque mask is riding shotgun. No one stops him. No one questions him. Not about where he’s going. Not about the camera. Nothing.
The movie only spirals further out of control from here. The cruiser that escorts Elizabeth home is followed and recorded, and shortly after the cop who checks her apartment leaves- she receives a video chat invitation from her tech-savvy friend which depicts an officer entering his ransacked place of residence and quickly being murdered with what looks like a golf club. As Elizabeth screams for help from the officer that should be outside, she notices that she is being filmed- via a hidden camera that has somehow found it’s way into a ventilation shaft behind her in her bedroom. What? When did this happen?
Elizabeth removes the camera just as the power is shut off in her apartment. She goes to leave, and the officer that left no more than three minutes earlier is somehow dead and chained outside her door without her hearing ANYTHING. When she attempts to flee out the back door, one of the men in the Scarecrow mask is just sort of standing there. Elizabeth grabs a knife, just as the second assailant shows up in the apartment. Elizabeth gets the upper hand, stabbing the shit out of him and running outside. Despite the fact that she’s pretty fast and it looks to be a busy residential neighborhood- that first guy in the mask grabs her without anyone attempting to interfere or help.
Elizabeth wakes up chained in some room that looks like it would belong in an abandoned warehouse. She has a camera strapped to her forehead for some reason, and there’s a laptop nearby with a decent enough WiFi connection where she’s able to video chat with her not-dead boyfriend who is also trapped! Oh good! And what’s that? A third party enters the conversation in the form of her tech-savvy friend- also in captivity. He’s quick to get offed, however- followed by Elizabeth’s boyfriend. Both of them dying on camera. When one of the masked figures comes for Elizabeth, she has the common sense to fight back- and actually puts one in a sleeper hold using the chains binding her to the wall/from the ceiling. Using keys he has on him, Elizabeth frees herself- and proceeds to fuck up every single masked person she comes in contact with as she tries to escape the warehouse/dungeon. Turns out, there’s a lot of them- and the whole scenario of every room being bugged with a camera and internet access gave me a “Hostel” vibe.
When Elizabeth reaches the outside, she’s in a junk yard of sorts- and even more masked men try to stop her. She manages to get into a car, and even drive a ways before they t-bone her with another vehicle and cameras catch a group of them dragging her unconscious body out of the car and back towards whatever hellhole they’re dwelling in.
Elsewhere, someone has logged onto “The Den,” only to receive an invitation from Elizabeth’s account to video chat. When they accept- she is being hung on camera, until her captors eventually shoot her in the head- killing her live, on the internet, the way they did to the woman Elizabeth witnessed being murdered.
In the final scene, the first one not in first-person mode or from the perspective of a webcam/smart phone, a man is opting to purchase Elizabeth’s “narrative” from a website specializing in showcasing the stalking, torture, and murder of video chat users- proving my “Hostel” like theory correct. He’s just getting ready to settle in and enjoy Elizabeth’s demise when his young son walks into the room and he quickly shuts the computer off.
Here’s the thing- “The Den” has a cool concept. It does. “Hostel” was sick and twisted and in a lot of ways, this is similar to that- but with recent hackings and information leaks making National headlines- something like “The Den” hits a little closer to home for those of us who use social media and video chats regularly. While the jump scares weren’t frightening at all and there were a LOT of plot holes- I mean a LOT- and of course the acting was terrible- I feel like with better writing, better performances, and a little more effort to tie up multiple loose ends- this could actually be a pretty good, unnerving movie. Someday.
Just not today.
‘Til next time…