Today technology touches people’s lives in ways unimaginable even twenty years ago. Cell phones keep us connected. Blackberrys make it possible to send and receive e-mails twenty four hours a day. X Boxes increase reaction skills and you can get almost anything you want on the internet from rare books to lawnmowers to jewelry and even, as a new techno thriller called Untraceable suggests, murder.
Diane Lane stars as agent Jennifer Marsh of the FBI’s Cyber Crimes unit. She is investigating a twisted cyber terrorist who rigs up elaborate death traps involving sulfuric acid, heat lamps and nasty chemicals to off his victims and plays streaming video of their suffering on a site called www.killwithme.com. The more people visit the site the faster the victims die.
Think of it as Saw with an url or Se7en in Cyber Space. It may also make you never want to go on-line again.
Untraceable is a well enough constructed thriller. Directed by Fracture’s Gregory Hoblit (whose father was an FBI agent) it’s certainly better than many of the women-in-peril films we’ve seen lately but is sometimes done in by clichéd dialogue and implausible situations. Why, for instance, would an FBI computer expert allow her 8 year-old daughter to download games on her work computer?
More interesting than the movie’s predictable twists and turns is the suggestion that the internet is the Wild West, a place where people feel no responsibility for their actions. Untraceable points the finger of guilt directly at users who anonymously and impassively sit at home watching the snuff site, feeling no remorse, even though they are hastening the victim’s death. The suggestion is that the internet, while powerful, has created a community of voyeurs desensitized to real life who can even view murder as entertainment. The idea isn’t developed well enough, Hoblit chooses to stick with the thriller elements of the story rather than the social commentary, but for those willing to dig a bit deeper it raises good questions about how we use the internet.
Despite the missed opportunities for social comment, Untraceable is a good attempt at blending old school thriller techniques with a high tech premise.