Untraceable (2008)

JANUARY 10, 2008


For a while I thought I was a fan of Gregory Hoblit. I really enjoyed Frequency, and consider Hart’s War to be one of the most underrated films in Bruce Willis’ career (I am proud to say I am one of the 14 people who saw Hart’s in theaters). And Primal Fear is one of the few Ed Norton movies I can stand. But now, after the double whammy of Fracture and Untraceable, I realize that the guy doesn't really have any sort of style or recurring themes in his films, and just sort of directs whatever comes his way, much like your Roger Donaldsons or Stephen Hopkinses.

(I haven’t seen Fallen).

The problem with Untraceable is that it tries to cater to two audiences: those who like Hostel or Saw, and those who enjoy Diane Lane movies and “adult thrillers” (read: movies in which putting a child in momentary danger is considered “edgy”). And it ends up satisfying neither. The traps are incredibly weak, and the whole hook of the movie (that the more people who log into the website, the faster the victim will be killed) is never really explained. We see the numbers going up, and the music and look in the victim’s eyes tell us that THIS IS BAD, but it’s never clear what exactly the increments mean. For example, one trap involves the victim in a big vat of water. The computer tracker thingie is connected to a tank of sulfuric acid. The more people that watch, the more acid is pumped in. But it seems sort of arbitrary – the gas gets released at random hit levels (as opposed to something like “for each million viewers, 1 ounce of gas will be released”). Also, they don’t bother coming up with any sort of explanation for what would happen if people began logging off of the site.

But on the flipside, the 40ish women who flock to see Lane in things like Over The Tucson Moon or whatever the fuck will be grossed out by the “horrible” things on screen, like, well, a guy dissolving in a tub of acid. There’s also a guy who is burnt to death, another is bled to death, and a kitty is starved to death. Come on, only gorehounds will like that stuff, and they will be bored shitless by the rest of the movie. The soccer moms will be disgusted and walk out. So who wins?

Well, assholes like me do! The one saving grace of the film is reading the stuff people post as they watch the videos. Unlike pretty much anything else in the movie, the stuff the kids say in response to the video feels authentic, with “ROFL he’s ded” (sic) and “OMG WTF?!?!?!?” type things flashing by. Most of them are only funny if you’ve seen the respective video, or otherwise I would post more (my favorite is one guy’s anger at “watching a house”). Had the entire movie just been a nonstop scroll of these comments, it would probably be my favorite movie of the year.

Another thing they totally skip over is how an FBI agent manages to get captured by a guy smaller than him (I’m not giving anything away, the killer’s identity is not a secret and he is 'revealed' in the first half hour). Like the notion of people logging off the site, it seems whatever they couldn’t come up with a plausible explanation for, they just skipped it entirely. They set up that he’s the killer’s target, and then viola! He’s tied to a torture device.

I wish they kept this practice for a truly idiotic plot device involving Morse code. The aforementioned FBI agent begins blinking strangely, and Lane figures out that it’s Morse code. This is sort of dumb, but I probably would have went with it. Unfortunately, it’s foreshadowed by the clunkiest line of dialogue ever recorded in a film. Earlier in the film, the same agent comments “Too bad he wasn’t a boy scout, he could bleed in Morse code and tell us his location.” That doesn’t make any fucking sense whatsoever, and no human being would ever say such a thing, UNLESS he was setting up the usage of Morse later in the film. Fucking Christ.

However, I will admit that I liked how, for once, when the one guy who knows Morse begins transcribing the message, he doesn’t find himself magically at the beginning of the phrase. I always hate that in movies, the person translating the code somehow knows everything the guy said prior to the revelation. It’s like, “It’s Morse Code! (grabs pen and paper) ‘Beep BEEEEP Beep Beep BEEEEEP’.... OK he says he is being held at the St James Hotel in room 405 and that there are 12 guys on him with assault rifles and also...”

Well, whatever. It’s a Screen Gems movie, so who is expecting anything but the hope they won’t want their money back? I saw it for free (though I had to pay 3 bucks for parking AND fight an hour’s worth of traffic to get there) so I don’t qualify, but had I paid for it, I guess I’d be OK with the loss of 10 bucks. I like Lane OK enough, and the dude playing her partner was kind of funny, since he swore all the time. Generic time-killer, nothing more, nothing less. *shrug*

What say you?


  1. My favorite part in the preview is when she says "He's untraceable!" I love it when they work the title of the movie into a stupid bit of dialouge. Sounds about like I thought it would be.

    I did enjoy "Fracture," however, and thought it was a lot better than it had any right to be. Granted, Gosling and Hopkins take it up a notch with their verbal sparring. And for the most part I believed Hopkins could pull off everything the way he did; I found the way they trapped him a little too easy, though. Still, not too bad. But Hobling has yet to live up to his "Primal Fear" debut.

  2. Sorry, I meant Hoblit, or whatever the hell his name is.

  3. He didn't say "Bleed" in Morse code. he said "Blink".

  4. First off, there are many times throughout Untraceable where there is a recurring theme. The main theme of the movie is that technology, although thought to be a great thing, really can be the death of us--literally. Also, another theme, or idea of the movie, is how impersonal the computer/internet is. People are logging on to see someone die because they are curious and to them, it is not personal and not concretely real. Also, it is explained to us the idea of as more people log on, the victim dies faster because we see the numbers increase and once it reaches the next amount that will trigger an increase in whatever torture, the number (for example 14,000,000) will flash and then the increase occurs. It would be sort of lame if they literally just came out and in bold letters said "FOR EVERY ONE MILLION VIEWERS,ONE OUNCE OF GAS WILL BE RELEASED." We as viewers are supposed to be keyed into the fact that yes, every million person mark, more acid, heat lamps, etc. are added. If you watch the movie more than once, you can pick up on a lot of things you may have missed the first time around. Such as, the brilliance of all the technology included in the film. We are pounded with technology after technology that is either failing in the film (her car computer when it is taken over, her own home computer hacked into) or technology being present throughout the whole film (cameras, smart phones, every victim (besides the kitty) is lured by technology (email, impersonating phone call) etc.). Plus, did you happen to notice how scrawny and dorky Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) is? The killer is definitely his size or bigger and he has a TASER!! So I'm pretty sure that explains how he can take anyone, any size down, FBI agent or not. I think that we are supposed to assume that at the alarming rates that people are logging on, if people did sign off the website, it wouldn't make much of a difference because 100 more people would replace that one person. It's a brilliant film if you really take the time to analyze it--very reflective of its time and the technology ere.

  5. Wow. I wonder if there are still people that exist who think Untraceable is a "brilliant film."


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