Directed by Zachary Donahue
=Spoilers Contained in Review=
The basic premise of the film The Den is a young woman named Elizabeth has received a grant to conduct a study on human behavior on the internet, pledging to be connected online 24/7 to a video chat service called The Den, in hopes of interacting with as many people as possible and recording each and every conversation. Sure, this sounds relevant in today's technology-driven society, with Skype, ChatRoulette, FaceTime, and all the other social media platforms with which today's youth can get themselves in trouble with. We are all warned from an early age of the dangers of interacting with strangers on the internet, never knowing for sure who we're talking to or what their true intentions are. Elizabeth herself encountered her fair share of weirdos on The Den ranging from naked old weirdos pleasuring themselves on camera to the age-old favorite, the Nigerian prince needing your bank account routing number in order to transfer you a million dollars or some such nonsense.
One night, Elizabeth and her best friend Jenni are having a beer and on The Den when they come across a still photo of a teenage girl smiling at the camera rather than a video feed, with the screen name Pyagrl*16. When Elizabeth leaves the room, Pyagrl*16 sends Jenny all sorts of crude messages and signs off. Later that night, a hacker logs into Elizabeth's computer and we hear muffled screaming in the background. We are led to believe something real sketchy is up with this Pyagirl*16 chick. All along, Elizabeth has been neglecting her boyfriend, Dominic, in order to focus on her project, but he decides to come over one night and the hacker records them having some 'adult time' and sends it in an email to the president of the organization that gave Elizabeth the grant, resulting in her funding being suspended. Things take a turn for the worst when Elizabeth witnesses the girl in the Pyagirl*16 photo having her throat slit on camera by a mysterious burlap-sack headed man.
Later on, we see this same man lurking in the back of Dominic's car and kidnapping him as well as luring her best friend, Jenni, over to Elizabeth's house and then smashing her head into a desk. Elizabeth later finds Jenni in her bathtub with her wrists slit. Probably the worst act of Burlap-Sack Head is when he breaks into Elizabeth's pregnant sister's house, tapes her mouth shut and holds a knife to her very pregnant stomach. Thankfully though he does not kill her. The police are called to help Elizabeth investigate this crazy asshole but they prove to not be very helpful. Eventually Elizabeth herself gets in a fight with Burlap-Sack Head, stabbing him and all, but she still gets caught and dragged to a mysterious dungeon where she awakens with a camera attached to her head.
She is forced to watch her friend Max be smothered to death and then her boyfriend Damien be attacked. Turns out there is a group of these burlap-sack head guys all working together to pick off Elizabeth's friends one by one. Elizabeth is forced again to fight off the men and almost escapes completely but there proves to be too many fighting against one and she is caught and dragged back into the dungeon.
We see Elizabeth bloodied and hung from the ceiling of the dungeon and then shot in the head. Just lovely. The riveting (I use this word sarcastically) conclusion of this film actually shows a creeper purchasing a video of Elizabeth's death online. Then we realize there is an entire website dedicated to these snuff films, where you can pay high dollar to watch the elaborate back stories leading up to people's actual murders. Isn't humanity great?
So overall, I have to say I feel rather 'meh' about this film, borderlining on disappointment. There was nothing truly scary about it, save for a jump or two that were mostly just cheap scares that added nothing to the plot. It reminded me of a young adult version of the film Megan is Missing which is about a teenage girl talking to crazy men on the internet who end up kidnapping her and doing terrible things to her and her best friend. It seems as though films like this have a very very smothered message of warning people about the dangers of creeps on the internet, but rather than portraying this message in a truly instructional or thought-provoking way, they just fill the films with as much gore, violence against women, rape, and torture as possible. Yes, I understand there is a certain market for this type of film, but I would like to see someone go against the grain and create a horror film around the internet/video chatting that is maybe less violent and more truly scary and/or creepy. I think it's totally possible.
Many people out there are aware of what's called the "dark side of the internet." This can range from things as innocuous as blogs like ours that highlight creepy content and discuss it (at least hopefully) intelligently and creatively. [Hey, we try :)] Sites like Reddit and others have their fair share of creepy content as well. Then there is the even darker side, which I can't say I'm too familiar with myself, but where apparently you can partake in all sorts of illegal and disturbing activity. The internet is an odd concept and though it can be truly rewarding and allow you to create connections and relationships or maintain them with loved ones and friends, it can also open a portal for sad and disturbed individuals to do truly traumatizing things to people. So all I can say, dear reader, is tread lightly and if it gets too bad, spend a few hours cleansing your mind on http://cute-kittens.tumblr.com/.