Billed by some as this generation’s Rear Window (a statement which should make Hitchcock turn in his grave), Open Windows is an ambitious thriller which, due to a very low budget and a series of exceedingly poor choices, fails to hit the mark on just about every count.
Elijah Wood (still desperate to shake the Frodo persona he’s been labelled with since The Lord Of The Rings, and stuck in low-brow horror territory) stars as the nervous Nick Chambers; webmaster of a gossip-filled, pap-shot prevalent, clickbait-heavy fansite celebrating the life and times of fictional actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey, her from The Girlfriend Experience, Entourage, and more famously/importantly those porn films you’ve ‘never‘ watched); a man who’s won a dinner-date with the famed actress, but soon finds his dream night taking a turn far darker than he ever imagined.
After getting a mysterious online call, Nick is informed the date has been cancelled but as a consolation he’s given a link which allows him to view anything on Jill’s phone; an obviously highly illegal and morally bankrupt move which only progresses further, as the caller coerces and threatens Nick into watching her make private video calls live, spying on her hotel room, and even winding up commanding her to undress via webcam.
Sadly, thanks to Open Windows, watching Sasha Grey via webcam for an hour and a half is far less pleasurable than it should be. It’s a joyless experience which does throw up a few questions about modern society (paparazzi/gossip/website culture), voyeurism, and how far people go when they can/are told to push the limits, yet it’s all handled in such a ham-fisted way all of the above questions seem to have occurred as an accidental byproduct of cheap voyeuristic torture-porn.
It’s not as graphic or gory as something like Saw or Hostel, but Open Windows still seems to delight in the pain (mostly emotional, caused by the villain’s wish to dominate Sasha’s unwilling submissive) being caused to Ms Goddard, and the depiction of her ordeal (especially when she realises what is going on, and is ordered to strip, and more, over her private computer) does make for some disturbingly uncomfortable viewing – it’s hard to watch, and in that respect Open Windows is almost a success because, by watching, it makes every viewer almost as guilty as Nick and the man pulling his strings; we’re also voyeurs, casually viewing this ordeal and revelling in Jill’s anguish through the eyes of Nick’s laptop (not a traditional, and largely detached, camera); thanks to the unusual filming style.
Likely due to budget constraints, the entirety of the action unfolds via Nick’s laptop; from start to finish all we see is his monitor; viewing Jill through hacked webcams, Nick via his in-built webcam, and everyone else through Skype calls, dashboard car-cams, and other online streaming services which all are open on Nick’s personal laptop, and while it does indeed make us more a part of his tale than a traditional handheld/dolly setup may have done, it grows very tiresome very quickly, and by the end you’ll be begging for even a single static shot delivered via traditional means (not only does one fail to materialise, but a God-awful effect is used to somehow make this even more insufferable as the film rolls on).
Though it’s not only the filming style which fails to land as intended, because what could have been a fairly dark thriller paying on celebrity obsession, rape-culture, the indifference to hacking, and voyeurism as a whole turns out to be nothing more than run-of-the-mill low-budget tripe thanks to numerous plot-holes, the fact Nick has no reason to ever go along with his mysterious caller yet seems to jump at the chance to taser random strangers, get into car chases with the police, and torment his supposed idol, and an overly complicated finale which attempts to be far too grandiose, and falls flat by introducing a truly ridiculous and unnecessary twist which is nothing short of laughable, followed up by a terribly shot, terribly acted, and terribly written final scene which would be instantly forgettable were it not for the bad taste it leaves in your mouth.
While he’s capable enough here Elijah’s never been a great actor and while he’s continually given poorly written drivel like this to work with there’s no chance of him escaping the straight-to-DVD dungeon. Yet his half-vacant portrayal of Nick is still the best thing about Open Windows‘ acting-wise; a shame as Neil Maskell (the Kill List star who has a lot more potential than he’s allowed to show here) is largely relegated to the job of menacing voice-over man, and while Sasha Grey clearly can’t act, it’s actually quite believable to picture the former porn star as a B-movie queen idolised by people such as Nick.
Unfortunately a case of potential promise wasted, Open Windows is is badly written, badly shot and badly acted. It may be difficult to watch in places, though there are plenty of low budget thriller/horrors which do the same job far better than this instantly forgettable mess ever could. With an unusual filming style which grows quickly stale, a disgustingly poor twist and no heart whatsoever, Open Windows is best left closed.