The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The Den

Congratulations are in order for the makers of The Den. I see a couple dozen horror movies a year. Few of them – even the good ones – scare me or freak me out. I'm hard to get that way. The Den freaked me out. The film has a very ingenious, relevant concept that it executes with consummate skill. I've always said that monsters/aliens/boogeymen are considerably less frightening than the unknown or things one could really be confronted with. The Den takes things most of us are familiar with and utilizes them as tools of terror.

Melanie Papalia plays Elizabeth Benton, a young woman working on her graduate thesis. She intends to explore the habits of users on a Chatroulette-style site called “The Den.” She logs on, is connected via webcam to a random user, notes what they are doing and, if they seem normal or interesting enough, attempts to engage them in conversation. During one of her sessions, she witnesses a gruesome murder. It wouldn't be fair to tell you what happens from there, except to say that Elizabeth is plunged into an online nightmare that begins bleeding over into real life.

The conceit of The Den is that the whole movie takes place on a computer screen. Every character is being filmed by a webcam. Windows pop up, with Elizabeth's email, files, and programs filling the screen as they become relevant. This approach adds to the horror, not just because it's reminiscent of “found footage,” but because it exemplifies the scarily uncertain aspects of the internet. The Den takes the idea of global connectivity and investigates its dark side. When it's so easy to connect with anyone anywhere in the world, what happens when you connect with someone genuinely unhinged? Hacking plays a vital role in the plot, as does the notion of internet stalking. Because we all use the internet, the movie's terror hits home. What happens may not be completely plausible, but it's close enough to push your buttons.

Director Zachary Donohue skillfully executes the style, making it work to his story's advantage rather than feeling like a cheap gimmick. There are at least four or five shocks that made me jump (again, a rarity), and the finale, which involves one of those GoPro cameras, cranks the tension up to crazy-making levels. Credit must also go to Melaine Papalia who, like Heather Donohue in The Blair Witch Project or Katie Featherston in Paranormal Activity, does a thoroughly convincing job of playing terrified, while also adding a much-needed human element. She anchors the film in an important way.

The Den is one of the scariest movies I've seen in years. With a tight 75-minute running time, it moves like a bullet and jolts the hell out of you on a regular basis. This is the kind of film that, when it's over, makes you want to sit down and calm your nerves for a while.

( 1/2 out of four)

Note: The Den is in theaters and also available on VOD. To check availability in your area, visit the IFC Films website.

The Den is rated R for strong bloody violence, terror, some sexuality, graphic nudity and language. The running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes.

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