Ctrl + Alt + Del, by Craig Schroeder
Without hyperbole: Nacho Vigalondo’s new film Open Windows is a movie unlike any I’ve seen before. It plays with traditional framing devices and is a bizarro response to years of tired found-footage thrillers. The only problem is that once the novelty wears off, Vigalondo’s unique vision falls apart like a wet loaf of bread.
Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) runs a fan site dedicated to movie star Jill Goddard (played by porn star-cum-legit actress Sasha Grey). When Nick wins a contest to meet his Hollywood obsession, his plans are foiled by a phone call from a mysterious stranger, known only as Chord, with singular access to every piece of technology in Nick’s immediate surroundings. Nick and the stranger share an obsession with Jill Goddard; and Chord forces Nick to act as a puppet, gaining access to every part of Jill’s life and all her digital secrets. The catch: Open Windows is a film entirely contained on the screen of Nick Chambers’ laptop computer. Chord is able to manipulate phones, webcams, security cameras and websites, giving Nick (and the viewer) unprecedented access to the digital world at large.
The framing device, limiting the on-screen action to what Nick sees on his laptop, frequently leads to a number of laughable story contrivances. Characters are constantly finding reasons to mount webcams to things so as to give the viewer a look at the action taking place. And when Nick is forced into action himself, it turns semi-interesting action sequences into unintentionally comedic scenes of a scared young man running for his life whilst cradling an open laptop.
The most irritating problem with Open Windows is that Vigalondo (the mind behind cult favorite Timecrimes and “A for Apocalypse,” one of the only successful entries in the anthology The ABC’s of Death) has created a film in which the advanced technology (including webcams that can generate 3D imagery of their surroundings) doesn’t fit into any established time period. The beginning of the film would have you believe that the action takes place in our reality, with a few slight, futuristic exaggerations to recognizable technology. But as the film progresses and the stakes are raised, Vigalondo continues to introduce more and more futuristic gadgetry. It’s a dirty trick Vigalondo is playing: fool an audience by introducing an element inconceivable to the reality you’ve previously established. Vigalondo is able to create some shocking imagery, but nearly every twist and turn in the film is unearned.
Elijah Wood’s post-Middle Earth career continues to fascinate. For a man who probably had every script in Hollywood delivered to his doorstep in the early 2000s, he continues to make interesting, provocative choices. In the last year alone, he has made a number of delightfully bizarre choices (with varying degrees of success), appearing in Open Windows, Grand Piano and Maniac–a collection of strange and possibly alienating films–all while starring in a sitcom about a talking dog. And if Open Windows does anything well, it’s in showing Wood’s dependability as an actor. With a webcam mounted to the computer, Elijah Wood’s Nick appears in nearly every scene of the movie. And Wood’s performance manages to maintain the stakes in an incredibly silly film. If you’re scared or tense, it’s likely a product of Elijah Wood’s reaction to the scene rather than the scene itself.
Though I enjoyed very little of Open Windows, I must tip my hat to Nacho Vigalondo for committing to a gonzo idea that no one’s tried before. Unfortunately, Open Windows offers a perfect example of why no one has tried framing an entire film on a laptop screen; it’s mostly dull, hard to navigate and ends as nothing more than a vapid exercise in anti-narrative filmmaking.