Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hideo Nakata's CHATROOM finds a visual mode for some creepy online shenanigans

With a screenplay by Irish playwright Enda Walsh (based on his own play), CHATROOM -- which makes its straight-to-DVD debut this Tuesday, June 14 -- has come up with a kind of wonderful visual equivalent of being online, entering a chatroom, and interacting with a number of people whom you "experience" but do not "see."  Since this is a film, of course we must see, and so director Hideo Nakata (shown below, of the original Japanese Ring movies) and his production designer Jon Henson have given us the necessary visuals -- and they are at once thrilling and bizarre.

How ironic, then, that as imaginative as the filmmakers have been in turning an online chatroom into a kind of surrealistic, three-dimensional experience, their imagination has led them to bark up a completely wrong tree. For anyone who has had the experience of being online and "talking" (more like writing) to another person, all these visuals -- together with the gorgeous cast the movie has assembled -- will seem like utter baloney. They simply do not, as it were, "compute." And yet, at another ironic "remove," even as you are bemoaning the stupidity of the concept, you'll be well aware that it's still more interesting than having two (or more) of these characters sit at computers, typing their hearts out as we tap our fingers in bore-dom. You can fully understand why the movie-makers chose this route, even as you wish they'd have taken a much different one.

A supremely cerebral movie, for a full hour or more, everything in Chatroom "builds" -- yet nothing really happens. This, I think, will drive most audiences batty, especially in a film that the marketing department has targeted to those who demand thrills, chills and scares -- if not full-out blood and gore.

The story itself involves five individuals, led by one of them who is full of hatred for his own family (his mom looks to be modeled on the author of the Harry Potter series) and so wants to lead the others in the group down the garden path of negative thinking into full-bore negative action. Mr. Wrong is played by the exceedingly hunky Aaron Johnson (above, of Kick-Ass and Nowhere Boy), and his disciples include a hottie fashion plate, played by Imogen Poots (below), lately of Centurion and Solitary Man.

Also in the mix are Jim (Matthew Beard, below) a sweet but suicidal young man pining for his lost dad.

Then there's Emily (Hannah Murray, below, left), who has some very mild aggressive tendencies to vent, and Mo (Daniel Kaluuya, below, right), who has a thing for the little-too-young sister of his best friend.

These are not uninteresting characters, and they are played as well as possible, given the thudding and tiresome pace of the movie (Jim's story even has an entire claymation section devoted to it).

The movie builds a little suspense, at last, in the final reel, but then gets irredeemably silly -- from the behavior of the police (they insist that the perp turn around and face them before insisting that he put down his gun. Hello?  Well, he is Aaron Johnson, for goodness sake, so to hell with the weapon: They just want to get a gander at that gorgeous face!) to the behavior of the kids themselves. What? No hellos when at last they meet in person, or for that mater, no goodbyes when they part. Ah, well -- kids today. Whatcha gonna do with 'em?

Chatroom is available this Tuesday June 14, on DVD, for sale and/or rental.

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