“I’m just getting even”
The first thing I think of when I hear the name Nacho Vigalondo is “high concept”. From his fantastic time traveling debut thriller Timecrimes to a romantic dramedy set against the backdrop of an alien invasion with Extraterrestrial, you know you’re in for a unique genre treat whenever the Spaniard goes behind the camera. His third film Open Windows continues the trend by wearing a gimmick on its sleeve that forces every frame to be viewed off of an electronic screen. Through a suspenseful cat and mouse chase between forgettable fanboy blogger (Elijah Wood‘s Nick) and the madman hacker (Neil Maskell) using him to get close to celebrity actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey), Vigalondo meticulously leads us around a laptop screen to ensure we witness each reveal exactly how he’s intended.
It’s a claustrophobic, brilliantly conceived exercise I’ve seen once before in a short film entitled Noah. Just trying to comprehend the process of conceptualizing how to honor such a self-imposed constraint while finding ways to propel the plot naturally within it hurts my brain. So seeing it come to fruition courtesy of a fluid camera panning the myriad windows opening and closing on Nick’s computer is quite a sight. Each zoom bring us inside the action in way that almost makes us forget we aren’t watching it firsthand. Vigalondo perfectly times every pull out so we aren’t removed from that second layer of separation for too long. Even when there’s first-person action filling the screen, it’s actually a recording of a recording that might have happened minutes, hours, or days previously.
Intentional B-movie over-acting courtesy of Vigalondo’s principal quintet from Extraterrestrial arrives to begin everything with a bang. They inhabit what looks to be a straight horror version of Edgar Wright‘s The World’s End—something I wouldn’t mind Nacho expanding into a feature of its own—alongside Jill Goddard and her costar/beau (Jaime Olías). I’ll admit to being a bit disoriented by what was happening until Grey appeared, but even then it was odd because I wasn’t looking at an electronic device. And just when I started settling in the camera moves to reveal it’s a clip from Jill’s new film that Nick has been watching in his hotel room on a live convention stream. From here we learn he’s about to interview the actress for his blog—devoted to her—thanks to a contest he won online.
Up comes a video chat from a man named Chord (Maskell) saying he’s with the site that ran the promotion. He tells Nick that Jill has canceled and he has come all this way for nothing. As a parting gift, however, Chord also sends a link accessing the camera on her phone. They listen to a private conversation, discover the details of a secret rendezvous she’s about to engage in at his hotel, and harmlessly set up a camcorder to view the room across from Nick’s picture window where she’s soon to be seen. The ordeal quickly escalates out-of-control as the cautious webmaster’s conscience arrives a little too late. By now Chord acquires complete authority over Nick in order to force him into putting Jill in a sexually compromising position against both their wills.
What follows is a steady stream of adrenaline rush sequences consisting of kidnapping, torture, and car chases. A third party hacker team known as Triop (Adam Quintero, Jake Klamburg, and Daniel Pérez Prada) crash the party with misinformation and wavering allegiances, the police are called, and a couple surprise deaths occur to keep everyone on their toes. The artifice is unparalleled as Vigalondo and cinematographer Jon D. Domínguez capture each scene with a distinct visual flair to make everything look as though it’s filmed on portable cameras. Spliced together for a faux sense of uninterrupted real time, we’re thrust into the non-stop action ourselves. A bit of impossible sci-fi tech even gets introduced early—an x-ray filter that films through walls—to hopefully prepare us for bigger flights of fancy towards the end.
Sadly it doesn’t quite work. I understand the attempt in hindsight, but I checked out a bit when Open Windows‘ descent into a rabbit hole of pure manipulative twists commenced. The first three quarters of the film proves a memorable experience that engages and entertains despite its dark subject matter. Grey pulls off the bratty Hollywood actress, Wood carries the movie with his unwitting geek heroics, and Maskell’s voice behind the mask of anonymity is a scary one indeed. Their trajectory together is rooted in reality during this time with Chord playing puppet master to Nick and he in turn with Jill. Everything has been precisely planned for reasons gradually revealed while also providing fodder for half-realized commentary on the specter of celebrity worship and the general public’s idolatry turning into predatory, ambulance chasing greed.
This message was always there, but it’s glaringly obvious in the final act as the plot derails into contrivances far surpassing any necessity to ground actions onto the computer screen. What’s once a tense exercise devolves into an over-the-top series of “Scooby Doo” endings. Characters suddenly receive way too much dialogue to explain where they’re coming from and who they are as any momentum grinds to a halt so the filmmakers can affix their neat bow. It’s too bad too because Timecrimes‘ best attribute was its flawless way of planting seeds for subterfuge and intelligent surprise while Open Windows sacrifices authenticity and plausibility for the trick itself. People with promise of depth disappear to reveal their status as pawns facilitating certain revelations and the initial cool factor unfortunately evaporates to expose its strings.