Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 16 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, Terror, some Sexuality, Graphic Nudity and Language
Directed by: Zachary Donohue
Written by: Zachary Donohue & Lauren Thompson
Starring: Melanie Papalia, David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Anna Margaret Hollyman, Matt Riedy & Katija Pevec
The found footage horror genre has been on its last legs for years. With frequent generic theatrical releases featuring plenty of paranormal activity (see what I did there?) and little independent flicks that botch interesting ideas, it’s really hard to find a solid handheld horror story and that’s part of the reason that the good ones have become so special. THE DEN is one of very few recent horror movies shot in the found footage format that actually managed to freak me out. It has some problems specifically related to the horror genre (more on that later) that keep it from perfection, but I really enjoyed this tight, taut thriller that ventures into dark places and provides a fair share of disturbing visuals to linger in your mind after the credits have finished rolling. The best way to put my feelings on THE DEN is to say that it feels like a really solid short from the V/H/S franchise was turned into a feature.
Almost entirely recorded on webcams, THE DEN follows Elizabeth as she embarks on a project for her graduate thesis. She will spend nearly 24 hours a day logged into the social media site The Den. Think Chat Roulette and then bump up it a notch. After running across a couple of decent human beings, plenty of prank videos, and lots of perverts, Elizabeth stumbles upon a special user. The strange thing is that this person’s webcam seems to be broken, but something nastier lies on the other side. A bloody scene is given and Elizabeth has possibly witnessed a girl being murdered on camera, but she can’t be too sure about it. Seeing as this is a horror found footage movie, it’s safe to say if the gory death was “real” and if there’s no shred of doubt that this film will not have anything resembling a happy ending (again, it’s a found footage horror movie, you do the math). The suspenseful journey of making it to the final frame is totally enjoyable for horror fans and proves that (in the right hands) there is still be some life in this style yet.
THE DEN is littered with supposed camera glitches, delayed feeds, and buffering that make the film feel authentic to the way it’s being told. Even though I was watching this on a large TV, it almost seemed like the television set had been transformed into a large computer for an hour and a half. I can only imagine that watching this on a laptop with headphones would make for a much more terrifying experience (so by all means watch this alone in the dark at night on your computer). THE DEN nails one of the hardest things to do properly in the horror genre. It gets tension down perfectly. There’s a thick layer of dread that hovers over every frame and the fact that so many people on the internet seem like assholes makes everything feel more realistic as opposed to some critics who may state otherwise. If you don’t believe that the internet is full of tools, visit any heavy traffic message board or comment section. A gloomy and bleak sense that you know where this story is heading is present the whole time and that’s pretty much the case for the most part. THE DEN is a predictable, but in the sense that familiar campfire stories can still creep you out. It’s extremely well done in many respects, but the film is not without some notable issues.
Characters make dumb decisions that only inhabitants in horror movies would make. They are necessary to keep the plot moving forward, but if a friend on the phone is obviously trying to get you to leave your house in a panic or if you see that a recording camera in your home that doesn’t belong to you, wouldn’t you get the hell out of dodge? Don’t wait around to see what will happen or investigate it. If certain people in this film would have thought things out in a semi-logical fashion, then the body count wouldn’t wind up as high as it does. There are also a couple of misplaced moments where the found footage angle is recording from a phone screen. It seemed out-of-place given the entire tension of the flick was being recorded on a computer, even if it switched to different cameras at points. The same can be said of the final few seconds that add an unnecessary note and abandon the found footage style altogether. I feel the same point could have been made in a much better fashion without leaving the computer screen we had been staring at for over an hour already.
These problems being noted, THE DEN is pretty friggin’ cool. It’s one of the better horror films I’ve seen this year and I dug many things about it. This definitely isn’t for everyone. If you are turned off by the prospect of being scared or can’t stand the found footage style, then THE DEN isn’t going to change your mind. It’s far from a revolutionary experience in either of these fields. However, if you enjoy a good horror flick or want something a tad out of the ordinary (despite a predictable nature), then visit THE DEN. It may turn you off of Chat Roulette and Skype for life.