Untraceable is a horror film for the modern age, where exploration of the alienation and cruelty fostered by online anonymity seems to become more relevant every day.
Dine Lane plays Jennifer Marsh, an officer in the FBI’s cyber crimes division.
Along with her partner Griffin Dowd, played by Colin Hanks (yes, Tom Hanks’ son), their job is to delve through the murky world of the internet and expose the criminals who have made their home there.
At first, they tackle seemingly benign crimes like credit fraud and some light identity theft.
But then Marsh comes across a mysterious website called KillWithMe.com, and soon discovers that its owner is kidnapping people and hooking them up to twisted death traps, while filming the entire ordeal.
It’s the film’s unique twist that makes this so disturbing, even now.
You see, the killer has also linked all their traps to their website and the more people who watch, the faster the traps go.
In the beginning, they’re pulling in only a handful of views from the mostly niche dark web, but as the crimes continue to gain publicity, the view count quickly enters the millions.
The film’s message is clear: the ease of anonymity the internet provides, as well as the detached sense of voyeurism fostered by online culture and modern sensationalist news, has turned real life suffering into just another form of entertainment.
Another clever addition by the film-makers was the inclusion of a live chat on the killer’s videos, where viewers eagerly share their thoughts as they watch victims suffer.
Some condemn the killer, but the tragic irony is that they’re still watching the video and adding to the view count, which only makes the traps work faster.
Others gleefully egg the killer on, offering praise and even creative suggestions for their next outing.
This might seem unrealistic to some, but a quick trip through anonymous internet forums like 4chan and Reddit will find plenty of realistic examples of this exact behaviour.
Nowadays, some people don’t even make the effort to stay anonymous and are happy to share their violent and often bigoted thoughts under their own names on platforms like Facebook.
If you want to nitpick, there are plenty of logical inconsistancies in the plot to go after.
For one, the killer somehow is able to access an unlimited amount of materials that would normally be impossible to acquire without anyone noticing. To be fair, though, this is pretty par for the course with these kinds of thrillers.
There’s also the incredibly convenient discovery that the killer and Marsh just so happen to live in the exact same neighbourhood.
I get the need to have them be in the same country since the FBI can’t exactly go after someone in Belgium, but even just having them in different states would have made more sense.
Still, I think the film’s strengths far outweigh its flaws.
Even without the pertinent commentary, it’s a tight and well-put together horror-thriller that fans of the genre would do well to seek out.