In our post-Facebook, post-News of the World, post-Songs of Innocence (the U2 album, that is) age, we are right to be suspicious of how much access we are giving large corporations and other faceless entities to our digital lives. And that is precisely why we are going to start seeing a lot more films like Open Windows hitting theaters and, in this case, streaming services for years to come. Hopefully the people behind it will be able to handle making a sociopolitical allegory more strongly than this film does, but for now, it’s a good place to start the conversation.
As the film opens we are introduced to Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood), a meek blogger who won a contest to have dinner with the subject of his fansite: actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) and is waiting in a hotel room in Austin for the big moment. As he does, he watches a livestream of a press conference introducing the actress’ latest sci-fi/horror epic and piddles around on his computer. His isolated calm is interrupted by a call from a strange man named Chord who lets him know that Jill called off the dinner. But the voice starts offering him much more, including a link to the camera on the actress’ mobile phone and increasingly more access to her private life.
Already the makings of a decent enough voyeuristic thriller, director Nacho Vigalondo adds an element of claustrophobia by focusing entirely on Nick’s laptop screen. We see the various windows pop up and disappear so as to move the plot forward. When Nick is asked to spy on a tryst between Jill and her agent happening in the same hotel by setting up a camera at the window, a window with the feed from the camcorder shows up. And when Jill’s agent spots the camera and heads up to NIck’s room, another window appears with a stream of the security cameras in the hotel and then a series of angles from cameras hidden around the room. There’s also a little box that pops up connecting him for (initially) reasons unknown with a trio of French hackers who believe Nick to be a notorious culture jammer who calls himself Nevada.
As you’ve likely surmised, Nick is initially rather thrilled at the entree into Jill’s world, but starts getting more and more in over his head when he fears that his safety and that of his celebrity crush are being threatened by Chord. Hence why he agrees to taser Jill’s agent and tie him up rather than shutting his laptop and getting the fuck out of Dodge.
The taut center of Open Windows sadly cannot hold. Twists come into play, convenient plot holes are glossed over, and poor Grey’s wobbly acting ability. By the time the third act starts, the already unsteady structure of the story starts to crumble. Slowly. The last half-hour of this film felt like a long slog to an underwhelming conclusion.
Vigalondo and his team keep us watching in part because we need to find out how he’s going to keep us “connected” to the various, which he does through a Google Glass type device and access to a bag full of “ping pong” cameras that can be accessed via an outside network. The latter is rendered rather beautifully in almost crystallized shots of moving bodies, fractured because all these cameras are pointing in different directions and being jostled around by a moving car.
What Open Windows does make clear is that, in spite of moments like the recent leak of celebrity nude photos, the only people who can truly avoid getting their lives turned upside down by megacorporations and Deep Web enthusiasts have lots of money and backend access. In spite of the cuts and bruises she gets through the course of the film and the discussion of a leaked sex video, only top tier actress Jill comes away from this relatively unscathed and seems headed for some sort of happy ending. For everyone else, it seems only a matter of time before they – whoever “they” are – come for us.