A substandard cinematic exercise told entirely through the perspective of its protagonist’s desktop computer screen, “Open Windows” certainly conveys a go-for-broke sense of confidence in its attempt to render its story entirely through this particular visual style. Unfortunately, the film eventually feels like a one-trick pony in which its gimmick grows tiresome awfully fast, exposing the plot for nothing more than a series of ludicrous plot-twists; each one more baffling than the last.
Elijah Wood stars as Nick Chambers, a geeky administrator of a fansite dedicated to the fictional celebrity, Jill Godard (Sasha Grey). After winning an online contest in which the grand prize consists of going out to dinner with the lovely actress, Nick settles into his hotel room in Austin, Texas, a few hours prior to his date.
Jill attends a convention to promote her new film, and as Nick watches a livestream of the event from his laptop, he receives an online call from an ominous stranger, who claims to be in charge of the meet-and-greet that Nick’s won. At first, the mysterious caller states that he’s sorry to report that Jill has cancelled her dinner with Nick at the last second, eliciting feelings of confusion and disappointment from the zealous blogger. However, it’s clear that this man on the other end of the line has much more sinister, ulterior motives for Nick, using his desire to meet Jill as a way of manipulating him into committing a series of acts that result in terrible consequences for everyone involved.
Writer and director Nacho Vigalando (“Timecrimes,” “The ABCs of Death”) constructs this picture with a confident sense of control in regards to its visual format, and, for the most part, he’s able to effectively juggle all of the characters’ Skype windows and desktop applications in a coherent fashion as the camera pans and zooms across Nick’s screen. Yet, this compositional structure loses its spark very early on, subsequently feeling drab and monotonous far before the film reaches its climax.
The story is ridiculous right off the bat, relying on an abundance of absurd contrivances to get from one scene to the next, and I particularly love how the villain consistently yells at Nick not to close his laptop since he has to “guide him” to each location. Obviously, other horror films within the found-footage sub-genre such as “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield” wouldn’t be nearly as effective from a third-person perspective, but the characters filming everything would still make sense to a certain extent. In the case of “Open Windows,” though, I couldn’t help but think about how hilarious it must be for the supporting characters to see Nick frantically running around while holding up a laptop uncomfortably close to his face. Then, in one scene, he places his computer in the passenger seat of a car and consistently takes his eyes off of the road to look into the camera, even during a high-speed pursuit with the cops.
By the time the revelatory twists and turns play out within the final third of the film, though, it flies off the rails to an extent so incomprehensible that I simply gave up trying to follow it. In fact, I’m pretty sure that if someone put a gun to my head and asked me to rationally articulate exactly what happens in this movie, I’d be shot within seconds; it’s that much of a clusterfuck. Any of Vigalando’s earlier attempts to project a cautionary tale centered around cybernetic voyeurism within our celebrity-obsessed culture ultimately get lost in the shuffle of its various, inconceivable plot developments.
The one aspect of the movie that’s spot-on is its casting. Wood, who’s apparently stalked by a psychopathic killer in just about every film he stars in this year (his last picture being “Grand Piano,” Eugino Mira’s campy homage to the work of Brian De Palma), does a solid job of playing Nick as an endearing, if highly gullible, dope. And it’s no subtle coincidence that former pornographic actress, Sasha Grey, has been cast as the iconic female celebrity who’s ultimately exploited and reduced to being yet another woman-in-danger. Acting-wise, Grey’s pretty wooden here, yet, for the themes that Vigalando’s aiming to address, her on-screen presence intriguingly blurs the lines between fiction and reality.
Ultimately, though, “Open Windows’” insatiable thirst for manipulating its audience within every turn of its inane script nullifies any of its previous efforts to construct some striking form of social commentary. Vigalando’s clearly influenced by classic shockers such as “Rear Window” and “Peeping Tom,” but where those films compose chilling outlooks on perversion, this attempt at a contemporary update is about as horrific as peering through a window with its blinds down.