Directed by: Gregory Hoblit | 96 minutes | thriller, crime | Actors: Diane Lane, Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Joseph Cross, Mary Beth Hurt, Peter Lewis, Tyrone Giordano, Perla Haney-Jardine, Tim De Zarn, Chris Cousins, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Trina Adams, Brynn Baron, John Breen, Dan Callahan, Erin Carufel, Gray Eubank, Zack Hoffman, Len Huynh, Dax Jordan, Daniel Liu, Kirk Mouser
Genre films, which on the one hand want to be an exciting thriller and on the other also want to have a socially conscious underlay, often find themselves in a complicated dilemma. Especially when the bottom layer contains criticism of the violent, sensationalist society, it becomes problematic. It is the same with ‘Untraceable’. On the one hand, the film contains an interesting analysis of the dangers of the Internet, and the possibilities for wide distribution of immoral films. On the other hand, the film is to some extent guilty of what is condemned, namely sensationalism and showing explicit violence or suffering. This ultimately makes the message, as it emerges in the film, relatively empty, leaving a conventional – and quite weak – serial killer thriller like we’ve seen it before. And that is a shame because the theme is intriguing in itself.
Many types of abuses and disadvantages of the digital highway are discussed in ‘Untraceable’, and the main characters in the film do not always seem to be left out of harm’s way. In the beginning of the film, with only circumstantial evidence, orders are given to kick a door into something. It then explicitly points the finger at a character illegally downloading music and movies. Of course that is not allowed, but this crime in the film seems to be there purely to warn the viewer. A little later, the limited international regulations are criticized when it appears that the investigators cannot do anything because it is a Russian server and they do not have the authority to find out information about it.
All this is only a prelude to the central problem of the film: should everything be put on the internet with impunity and made accessible? And, if these are movies of crimes, how much do you as a visitor to these types of sites encourage these practices, and are you guilty of this? And what does it say about someone if he / she likes to watch sensational videos? When does it change from a “healthy” curiosity to expressions of a morbid interest? Is it comparable to disaster tourism and standing still in a car collision, or is it more serious? The film notes how people can freely – and frequently – watch images of a journalist’s beheading – clearly referring to the actual beheading of British journalist Daniel Pearl. The killer in ‘Untraceable’ speaks very directly to the visitor of his site – and in fact also the viewer of ‘Untraceable’ himself – very directly about his (moral) responsibility when watching gruesome videos on the internet. The killer is cut from the same cloth as Jigsaw from the ‘Saw’ series. Here, too, he “only” creates the conditions under which the – very likely – death of his victims will take place. He creates the most creative setups, using ingredients like nitroglycerin, anticoagulant, and circular saws, then leaves it to visitors to his site, killwithme.com, to seal the fate of his victims. Because, the “hits” on the site trigger the torture – and eventual death – of his prisoners. The faster and the more hits there are, the faster people die. The killer tries to appear morally superior and to wash his hands in innocence (much like the movie / director Hoblit tries to do) by basically letting his visitors do the work.
The visitors know this, but do not stay away from this fact. On the contrary, they arrive at the site faster and in greater numbers. This fact makes you think. It is a pity that the film itself, in addition to proclaiming its intellectual message, is primarily an ordinary psychological thriller, which aims to portray every murder as exciting as possible – and often in detail, and uses every stupid horror cliché from the filmmaker’s let the expected confrontations take place. The film shows hints of ‘Se7en’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ but unfortunately cannot match the tension that was present in these films. It has a disadvantageous effect that the murderer is known so quickly, and moreover, it turns out not to be very smart in the last act.
Fortunately, Diane Lane still manages to offer some solace. This solid actress knows how to make even the most hopeless films viewable, and although ‘Untraceable’ is not a very bad film, her presence does a lot to keep the viewer interested and let them empathize with her character. Until she makes some mindless choices towards the end of the film that are purely inspired by genre conventions – or rather, the weak script. The dialogue is also not always intelligent or subtle, and it happens several times that a character draws an “enlightening” conclusion that the viewer had drawn fifteen minutes earlier.
It is regrettable that more attention has not been paid to the script, as there is quite a lot of potential for an intelligent, oppressive thriller. The theme is fascinating, Lane is (always) good, and Hoblit has shown in the past that he can make good thrillers, of which ‘Primal Fear’ catches the eye the most. Now ‘Untraceable’ unfortunately feels too much like an uninspired copy of other films in the genre. A copy with a nice, contemporary angle, that’s for sure, but with too little consistency and integrity to be able to convince.