What I'm Watching: Open Windows
I actually watched this a few months ago, but never quite got around to the review. I wanted to rewatch it to get a fresher view of it before reviewing, a need that became greater the more I stalled. But now, because of reasons, I had to do this as soon as possible. I'll get to those later...
Open Windows is about a guy, Nick Chambers, played by Elijah Wood, who is the ultimate fan of actress Jill Goddard, played by Sasha Grey. Our 'setting' is Nick's laptop for most of the storyline. Yes, that's right, we're staring at a laptop screen, covered in programs, from a live stream for Goddard's latest movie announcement, to Nick filming a video for a contest, to a phone chat, and screencaps he's taken, and...
And this is the biggest problem of the movie, right off the bat. Every storytelling tool has its pros and cons, and people are starting to discover this newish idea of using computer screens as storytelling devices. I suspect 24 started people thinking about this, since they popularised having multiple ideas on the screen at once. But they knew to keep it simple and keep the narrative clear.
Open Windows...does not. There is a LOT of stuff happening. Windows here, windows there, text over here, text down there, popups, links, images...it is truly information overload. Now, the movie 'pans' and 'zooms' to certain windows to draw your focus, but that right there is pretty much an admittance of failure in your storytelling. If you've packed so much in that you have to FORCE the audience where to go, so openly, it begins to show the moviemaking of it all. And, quite frankly, ruins the entire POINT of being trapped watching a desktop. If you're going to do that, do that, not zoom all the way in on a video window to focus on the car chase you'd rather be filming. If you want to do that, you can always have the user/main character maximize the window. It gives you the same or a close enough effect, while still using the language you've decided to use.
OH yes, there's a car chase. You know that problem with found footage movies, where you're yelling at people to put the camera down? Yeah, it's like...ten times worse here, because now Nick is forced to run around with his laptop and make sure it's pointed where it needs to be pointed.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely admire this movie for trying something new. This is an entirely experimental form of storytelling right here, almost no one has done it before. We're still developing the language of how to do this, and Open Windows tries stuff, and IMO, fails, but I still admire the attempt, as misguided as it may have turned out. If you want to do a computer screen movie, don't spend all your time trying to make me forget it's a computer. Embrace that, man!
Oh right, the plot. Nick gets contacted by this guy, claiming to be a representative of Jill's, and the whole contest thing has actually been cancelled. Oops, sorry, no one told you Nick? And while you're at it, here, I just sent you a link from a site called Hackpot, just click on that!
Yes, Nick clicks on these suspicious links sent by this random person he doesn't know, and eventually is sucked into a plot to kidnap Jill, fake her death, and run away with her. Oh, and there's a hacker group that thinks Nick is a hacktivist legend known as Nevada. Oh, and also there's people dying, not dying, coming back, and conspiracies within wheels, and yeah.
The movie starts off with a solid idea, but the third act twists, and twists, and twists, and twists, until it's back to devouring its own plot. It becomes too much, with too much going on. This movie is nearly two hours long, and that is just too long to be staring at someone's fake computer screen. The endless twists just feel crammed on there to drag this out and make it feel more clever than it is.
You're already doing experimental storytelling, don't try and do experimental plot twists. You are doing TOO MUCH with too many ideas. The old saying is, "Keep It Simple, Stupid," and more movies need to remember that, especially if you're trying to do something new.
And on top of all that, everyone's plots involve people behaving and doing things EXACTLY as they are required to do, and you know how I feel about those.
I could rant for pages just about the laughable use of technology, from people muting their sound so a person listening in can't hear them, but then Nick talking *to* them, and somehow not overheard by the mastermind? Oh, and then the bad guy's virus that takes over 'over a third' of the internet's websites to alter them to a singular site showing a video of Jill. And then there's the cameras they try and 'construct' an environment from, but it ends up just being fragments from about three dozen cameras, pieced together, for no good reason other than 'oh crap we need to see what's happening there'. It's another experimental thing the movie tries ON TOP OF THE REST. And it utterly ruins the final moments, because it's this entire lair, created in bits and pieces and fragments of a mosaic, and you're just trying to watch the mess form something coherent and not jumbled.
The best things about the movie are the cast. Everyone does a good job, for what it is, although Elijah's not quite right. He's supposed to be our hero, but is immediately painted as a kinda skeevy guy obsessed with Jill, and a bit of a doof, and the clicking suspicious links just annoys me, so I was never on his side. He still does a good enough job, especially as the twists continue, but I was never rooting for him, except for this moment midway through where he gets fed up with being manipulated and takes control, telling the Triops hacker group to get bent. Too bad that never went anywhere, and it was such a brief moment. We needed more of that.
Now, I am going to get into spoilery material, so back away now.
I'll give you a moment.
We good? Good.
So, when the twists really started, I loved them. I *do* love a good twist, a good moment that makes me sit up and go, "Holy crap!" And killing Elijah Wood, when the movie still had almost 25 minutes left? Yeah, that made me do that. It sucked me in, and I never saw them bringing him BACK and reveal he was really Nevada, and this was all revenge for the bad guy trying to kill Nevada before the movie started...and you can already see how the deaths and rebirths and all the plot twists get confusing just in this single paragraph.
It started off with some great twists in the third act, and then just totally blew that GREAT good will they sucked me into, by just not stopping, and endlessly twisting. I even liked Nick/Nevada coming back, but it just tried way too hard, and did too much.
So, I didn't really like this movie, but I did admire the attempt, and support them *trying* something different, even if things didn't quite get pulled off well. When experimenting, things are gonna have a few hiccups. This movie should be remembered as a pioneer, if more movies like this take off, and as a guide to see what not to do.
I love that the movie was made, but not the movie that GOT made. If it was shorter, I'd say check it out, just to experience what this sort of movie is like, but at nearly two hours, it's just not worth it. Which is a shame, since for much of the movie I was okay with the story, and the mystery had me mildly intrigued, even if it was overloaded with stuff. But too much technological nonsense and too many plots and twists bogged down what started off as a decent little mystery/thriller movie.
Oh, and it starts off with a 'preview' of Jill's new movie, before revealing that's NOT the actual movie...and quite frankly, it looked better than this one. Oh well. If there was ever a movie begging to be defenestrated, it's Open Windows.