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UNTRACEABLE

Untraceable is interesting because it seems to be one thing on the surface and something else entirely underneath, with somewhat different outcomes and successes. 

The basic plotline involves a cyber-crime unit of the FBI trying to capture a budding serial killer who plans elaborate Rube Goldberg/Dick Dastardly/Goldfinger-esque murders that are both witnessed and accelerated by viewers who watch online.  The plot plays out somewhat successfully, albeit with a sudden and massive amount of exposition that comes from a series of entirely off-screen deductions and connections, as well as some extraordinarily telegraphed plot developments early in the story.  And for folks who are supposedly tapped into almost every conceivable data source, able to track our movements across numerous bulletin boards and auction sites, you’d think they could use utility company records to figure out the location of a house that has enough heat lamps in it to grill a person or farm several acres of underground marijuana. 

What I found more interesting, however, was the manner in which the movie depicted two other phenomena:  Our gruesome interest in all things gory and disgusting and the strength and speed of viral marketing in our connected world.  The movie seems to be trying to shock us, but for anybody who spends a significant amount of time in front of either a television or computer screen, or both, it’s more of a sad acknowledgement of human nature than any sudden enlightenment.  After all, we slow traffic by rubber-necking at accident sites, build high ratings watching animal attacks and car chases on TV, and share gruesome videos of deaths and dismemberments online.  The movie points this out, but much of what it has to say in this regard (the background discussion, not the killing site itself) would probably seem mundane in many people’s personal computer bookmark lists.   

And after a student on Facebook managed to get a ridiculous number of people to support his bid for a threesome in only a few days a year ago, nothing really seems very surprising about viral networking.  Just look at the current situation with fans of the Mass Effect video game destroying the ratings, on Amazon.com, of an author who criticized the game on Fox News without actually having played it.  You can even see the combination of shock content and viral networking in other examples, such as Canadian PSA’s about workplace safety that end with some unfortunate construction worker being impaled or a cook slipping and getting covered in hot broth.  Or perhaps the unlikeliest topic for viral humor:  German forklift operator safety training.  All of which reinforce the idea that people would, indeed, watch bad things happen to people online and that the word would spread quickly if it ever happened. 

So, as a murder mystery, the movie is only marginally passable, and what little success it manages is largely achieved by being at least somewhat novel, rather than by being well structured.  However, as social commentary it is perhaps better, although it is also rather redundant in terms of both the content and the likely audience members who are probably even more tapped into the ideas presented than the filmmakers.   Untraceable might actually have had a greater effect if the story had been packaged to a less clued in audience, such as the current audience’s parents, and I’m left wondering about a far more serious and debate-worthy film that could have been made with this same material.

-Anthony Sheppard
tony@retrocrush.com

 

 

 

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