Gorno – that’s gore meets porno, film term slackers – gets an upgrade in Gregory Hoblit’s latest, a slick mix of serial-killer thriller and torture horror that compensates for its lurid excesses with a surprisingly clear-sighted take on the potential perils of online voyeurism.
Diane Lane plays Jennifer Marsh, a widowed FBI agent from Portland, Oregon who spends her nights surfing the net in search of cyber crime and copyright infringers. When one site, catchily titled ‘KillWithMe.com’, shows a cat being fried, she suspects more is to come. And so it proves, its psychotic host quickly moving onto humans who are offed at an increasing rate as more people log on to watch.
Revealing its perp early in the game – step forward baby-faced nutjob Owen Reilly ( Joseph Cross) – Untraceable follows the formula established by Se7en, Saw et al by upping the ante with each slaughter (one victim is bled to death, a second gets cooked by sun lamps while an acid bath awaits a third) and giving its villain a perverse moral code (none of them would perish, he argues, if there wasn’t an audience willing it to happen). True to form, Lane’s character has a daughter whose security is compromised by her relentless detecting. Given her similarities to a certain Clarice Starling, too, one can confidently assume the climax will involve some combo of girl, gun, psycho and basement.
Yet, for all its familiarity, the result is polished and professional enough to keep you both gripped and entertained. Lane uses the opportunity to continue her steady ascent up the leading lady ladder with another layered performance; Colin Hanks provides welcome humour as her wisecracking partner; while Billy Burke, who appeared in Hoblit’s previous effort Fracture, invests his good cop role with a sturdy, unflashy virility. If there is a weakness during proceedings, it comes from the script’s lazy dependence on plot devices: the deaf Fed who is called upon to lip-read, for example, or a knowledge of Morse Code you have a sneaking suspicion might come in handy somewhere further down the line.
"It's a jungle in there!" sighs Hanks as he counts the millions visiting the movie's kill-view website. But for all its scaremongering, Untraceable is best viewed as an above-average thriller with a tech-savvy hook.