So you had your identity stolen. Maybe your bank account got hacked because of the great Target credit card breach of Ought-Fourteen. Perhaps you even got busted talking to dudes that you thought were dudettes on Ashley Madison. If that’s the extent of your cyber-crime victimization, consider yourself lucky.
Go watch The Den if you want to see how dangerous the Internet can really be.
Sure, it’s fiction, but it feels so real that even after one viewing you’ll be even more hesitant to tap that sombrero-cat clickbait. And God help you if you’re brave enough to Skype after this 90 minute-creepfest.
It’s shot in an innovative webcam/cell phone-POV-style that transcends the now-cliched Found Footage narrative; that’s because everything feels as if it’s shot in real time, so there’s no assurance of any character’s eminent demise–we’re not sure who’ll bite it, but we know somebody’s got to (it’s horror, after all). The tension comes on quickly, but builds at a chilling, insidious pace, and it’s not long before you’re neck-deep in a cat and mouse game that feels like you’re living it from behind your monitor.
Our protagonist, Liz (Melanie Papilia), is conducting a grant-funded sociological experiment on live chatroom roulette site, The Den. Users log on, live-stream talking (or perhaps, conducting more brazen interaction), while maintaining the ability to move on to the next on-line Den participant when the conversation ends (or gets unappealing). The usual creepo-user tropes are all there: pervy kids, pervy adults, crude humor, lovesick teens, pervy giant foam…well, you get the picture.
Initially, all of Liz’s interaction is with other live-streamers until the night she replies to a post from a user who only displays a photo of an attractive young female. The girl’s comments seem innocuous at first, but it doesn’t take long for her to get more personal and more creepy.
She soon takes over Liz’s webcam and films her in an intimate moment with her boyfriend, playing it back to Liz’s shock and awe. Not long after, she shows her a live feed of what appears to be a very brutal murder. Within days, Liz is watching, helpless and horrified, as her best friend and boyfriend are stalked by grotesque killers who film it all for fun.
Palpably frightening, The Den does more to scare with so much less than so many other recent horror offerings. It is a picture that induces genuine cringes while you watch, and haunts your cerebral downtime in the days to come. Like the Grimm Fairy Tales of old, it’s a cautionary little tale that is sometimes hard to watch, sometimes hard to turn away from, but –like those old storybook lessons–is hard to forget.
It warns (in an almost Neitzchian sort of way) of the impossibility of unseeing what you’ve already seen. With each click, a little more innocence is lost, a little more danger invited. A little knowledge is a wonderful thing, but is too much dangerous?
It seems that way in the book of Genesis. God allows Adam and Eve to have free reign over everything in Paradise, as long as they refrain from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge. Often misrepresented as God’s intent to keep man in the dark, the Fall story actually centers around His protection of his creation from exposure of the knowledge of good and evil. Despite his command, Eve strays when the Serpent twists the Father’s commands and the beautiful appeal of What-Else-Is-Out-There is a fruit that is too sweet for her resist. Her want to become like God breeds a long, sinful, history for man. She and Adam had been given all they’d ever need, all they’d ever want for and they threw it all away for a glimpse of grass that only seemed greener because it was painted with their own envy.
Like Eve (and Liz), we’ve been given a virtual paradise in the Internet–unlimited knowledge and capability for good–yet we so often neglect, waste or abuse its positive potential. As Christians, we have a responsibility to steer from the dark side of the ‘Net, both for our own good and the good of our fellow man. May we resist the shiny luster of the modern Apple (sorry Mr. Jobs) as we strive to share the Fruit of the Spirit in all we say and do.
Point. Click. Trust. Obey.