auteur theory, Bernat Vilaplana, cinema, cyber-terrorism, Elijah Wood, fame, fans, Film auteurs, films, films reviews, hackers, Jon D. Dominguez, Jorge Magaz, modern technology, Movies, Nacho Vigalondo, Neil Maskell, Open Windows, Sasha Grey, stalkers, stylish films, suspense, techno-thrillers, thrillers, Timecrimes, writer-director
As technology advances, so, too, has the way that we consume films. Gone are the days when “going to the movies” meant, literally, going out to see a movie: these days, audiences are just as likely to head into the living room and fire up the Roku as they are to drive to the multiplex when it comes to seeing new, first-run films. With video-on-demand offerings now equaling (and sometimes exceeding) what’s available in the theaters, to paraphrase the Bard, all the world’s on our computer screens and our Playstations are no longer merely players.
Few films have embraced this new era quite as ably, enthusiastically and downright entertainingly as Spanish auteur Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows (2014). Combining a complex, Hitchcockian plot with an appropriately glossy, techno-babble sheen, Vigalondo’s film takes place entirely within a series of on-screen computer windows. The result? One of the few films tailor-made for the way that many people will probably wind up watching it: an open window on their computer screen.
Wasting no time, we meet our erstwhile protagonist, Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood). He’s the earnest, clean-cut and rather nerdy webmaster of a fan site devoted to hot, young Hollywood “it-girl” Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). Jill’s in the middle of a press junket for her newest soon-to-be-blockbuster, Dark Sky, a glowing-eyed-mutant epic that probably wouldn’t be out-of-place on a real-life multiplex marquee. Nick is pleased as punch because he’s just won a dinner date with Jill, a bit of happenstance that pretty much validates the entirety of his life.
Sweet turns to shit, however, when Nick gets a phone call from Chord (Neil Maskell), an employee with the company sponsoring Nick’s contest. Turns out that Jill has unceremoniously cancelled the event at the last minute, giving no reason and leaving Nick stranded without so much as a “how do ya do.” Nick is crushed but Chord offers him a bit of a band-aid: he hacks Nick into Jill’s personal electronic devices, giving the super-fan unprecedented access to entire life.
Declining to give in to Chord’s baser urging, Nick soon finds himself embroiled in a complex plan that seems to be spiraling ever faster and faster out of control. As Chord reveals himself to be less of a helpful perv and more of an evil genius, Nick must do everything he can to clear his own name, protect his beloved Jill and get to the bottom of the intricate game. He’ll have to be smart, however: Chord is brutal, ruthless and five steps ahead of him…one wrong move and it’s game over.
Despite coming off the rails in the final half hour, Open Windows is one of the most exhilarating, ingenious and flat-out fun films to come down the pike in quite some time. When the film is really firing on all cylinders, which is quite often, there’s a relentless sense of forward momentum that makes it all but impossible to blink, lest you miss some sort of background detail or bit of action. At times, the action is split between as many as 16 separate windows, making for the kind of dizzying “split-screen” action that ’60s cop shows could only dream about. It all works spectacularly well, maintaining a sense of cohesion that tiptoes the line between chaos and order but never slips into the abyss.
As someone who absolutely loved Vigalondo’s brilliant feature debut, Timecrimes (2007), I’ve eagerly awaited each new film with the kind of zeal normally reserved for children and cake. For my money, the writer-director is one of the smartest, freshest talents currently operating, a filmmaker who’s just one, big break away from becoming the next del Toro. While Open Windows isn’t quite that film, it is the kind of break-neck thriller that should move Nacho closer to that ever-present world domination.
Open Windows is a tricky film: similar to the way in which one might be rushed through a haunted house attraction, the audience is rushed through Vigalondo’s film, jerking to a halt only long enough to give the carriage a change to climb the rise and plummet down the next heart-stopping fall. It’s a setpiece-based film in that we are, essentially, watching bite-sized chunks of narrative played out before us in a multitude of various formats, each segment the equivalent of a video vignette we might peruse on Youtube. That the whole thing manages to come together into a complete whole (final thirty notwithstanding) is nothing short of a minor miracle. By its very nature, Open Windows is a film that should have been way too chaotic, disjointed, contrived and gimmicky to ever work: Vigalondo spins the various elements into pure gold.
While the film’s technical prowess and editing is duly impressive (cinematographer Jon D. Dominguez and editor Bernat Vilaplana deserve special mention for keeping everything as clear as they do), none of it would work without a sympathetic lead and Elijah Wood is more than up for the task. In the same way that Hitchcock had Stewart, Vigalondo uses Wood’s natural charisma and boyish Everymanism to keep our interest and sympathy fully on his side, even as the film twists and turns into some suitably dark places. Over the last few years, Wood has quietly become one of my very favorite actors, the kind of chameleonic performer who’s equally at home with the monstrosity of Maniac (2012) and the traditional heroism of Grand Piano. He’s the kind of performer who can draw me to a production on name alone and his work, here, is easily on par with his best. Between his work in genre films (I eagerly await his upcoming killer-kids film Cooties (2015)) and his production company, Elijah Wood is a bit of a modern genre hero and I, for one, salute him.
While Neil Maskell (incredibly fun as Banksy in Doghouse (2009)) makes a suitably sleazy villain, the real surprise is porn star-turned actress Grey. After making her “legitimate” film debut in Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience (2009), Grey would pop up in other film, from time to time, although Open Windows marks her biggest role since her debut. She’s quite good here: her fiery interview segment is an easy highlight and she manages to imbue Jill with the perfect mixture of aloof and vulnerable, an impossibly famous person who just wants to be invisible. While the majority of the film’s heavy lifting falls on Wood’s shoulders, Grey proves that she deserves more chances to show her dramatic chops.
For all of its numerous charms and positives, Open Windows is certainly not a perfect film: to be honest, it’s not even a better film than Vigalondo’s debut. Due to the necessary complexity of the storyline, credibility is eventually strained to the point where plot-holes became to rip through the surface with alarming frequency. There’s one point where Chord guides Nick from a hotel room into a car and onto the open road: it’s decidedly kickass but think about any one bit of it too long and the whole thing falls like bad souffle. The film also picks up speed to the point where plot elements blow by in the rearview mirror faster than one can register them.
When all is said and done, however, Open Windows is an undeniably good film. With astute observations on everything from the nature of modern fandom to the vagaries of internet fame to the difficulties of going “off the grid” in a world that’s perpetually connected, Vigalondo has plenty to say and this ends up being the perfect platform for him to say it. While I doubt that I’ll see another take quite as good as Vigalondo’s anytime soon (done poorly, I can only imagine that Open Windows would have been a kitschy, glitchy, head-inducing nightmare), this has definitely made me more receptive to this kind of thing in the future. While I’ll always be a fan of huge, sweeping cinema, Open Windows is proof that, sometimes, it’s just fine to watch something sized to fit your screen.