Filmmakers are always trying to present stories in new and interesting ways, which can only be good for the medium and the industry. As human life becomes more and more tied to computers and mobile devices, using them as the prominent methods of communication, it makes sense that more and more films attempt to encapsulate movies within those technologies. Open Windows is the latest offering within this emerging genre. Regrettably, when viewed by its parts – the ones that make up every film, like writing and acting – it’s average and prototypical. But taken as a whole, coupled with its presentation gimmick, Open Windows manages to distract from its shortcomings and parlay its resources into something that is legitimately engaging and engrossing.
Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) runs a fan site of actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). He’s invited to Fantastic Fest in Texas for a special evening with her after entering an online giveaway. Unfortunately, after arriving, he’s contacted by a member of the studio, a man named Chord, who informs Nick that Jill has canceled the evening. However, realizing how inconvenienced Nick must be, having come all this way for nothing, Chord offers to get Nick special access to Jill via a number of cameras, including her cell phone’s camera, by using a series of hacks and exploits. Nick is intrigued at first, but the situation gets out of control when Chord begins requiring Nick to do things, like activate programs on his laptop and, worse, physically assault people. How far will Nick go to help Chord and how far will Chord go to keep Jill the center of attention?
Almost the entire film is presented on Nick’s laptop across a series of open windows, each displaying different information, like recorded video, streaming video, cell phone data and more. The camera moves quickly between the windows, ensuring that audiences see what’s necessary to the story. When not on the laptop, the perspective is from some other recording device, like a cell phone. By and large, the presentation is handled very well, and there’s only a handful of times that the gimmick gets distracting. As the movie goes on, however, the gimmick is almost a non-issue to the point that Open Windows begins to feel like a traditional film.
From a storytelling perspective, the gimmick isn’t necessary. There are no grand statements about voyeurism or privacy; if anything, then the film is commentary on how powerful technology is and the kind of havoc it can wreak on our lives. Frankly, the presentation of Open Windows feels more like a cost-saving measure than an artistic choice. Imagine the complexity of having to shoot a car chase sequence with multiple setups across different locations. Now imagine if the entirety of the chase could just be shot from a dash camera on one vehicle. It’s probably still expensive, but also probably at a fraction of the cost of a traditionally filmed car chase. It’s probably easier to do as well.
Despite the very forced perspective of Open Windows, there are a few inspired moments. When Nick is approached by another group of hackers, it’s hard not to smirk at their cheap theatrics. Later in the film, when Chord employs groups of sphere shaped cameras that are able to create a larger image from their individual views, it’s clever how they can split the screen for audiences without making confusing them. Still, the film would probably have been better served with conventional cinematography.
The biggest drawback of Open Windows is the same one that all films that attempt this kind of presentation suffer from: Too many concessions must be made to accommodate the gimmick. This happens a lot in found footage films as well. First, none of the technology employed is believable. Even when Nick is using mundane tools, like a screen capture program, it doesn’t function the way that people would expect it to. Second, the actors don’t interact with the cameras the way real people do in real life. No one video chats while staring straight into the camera; they look at the screen to look at the other person’s face or their own face. Lastly, it doesn’t matter how good a Wi-Fi hotspot is, it isn’t strong enough to broadcast over several miles. There are always concessions to be made in any film, especially when technology is concerned, but when a film uses everyday media to tell its story, then it should prepare for everyday expectations.
Ultimately, Open Windows is good enough. It’s not Hitchcock’s Rear Window, but it isn’t trying to be, either. Instead, it’s a decent techno-thriller with a plot that’s twisty enough to keep audiences from giving up on the quirky presentation. If that’s enough, then Open Windows is an enjoyable way to pass the time.