A competent serial killer thriller for two-thirds of the way, Gregory Hoblit’s Untraceable loses itself with a generic – and completely out of place – final act.
Film itself is rather generic, the usual Se7en-influenced thriller with the modern torture-porn sensibilities of Saw and Hostel, but the premise of the film is genuinely fascinating: a killer sets up www.killwithme.com, a website users can enter and watch people die, live through a webcam.
The more users visit the site, the faster a victim will be killed through various Rube Goldberg-like death devices (this sets up a ridiculous number of 17 million US users logging on later in the film – morally questionable or not, there’s advertising revenue to be had there).
FBI Cybercrime Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is soon on the case, determining that the website in question is, in fact (drumroll please) “untraceable”.
Well, not completely untraceable: it is somewhere in the local Portland area where Marsh lives and works. As the website’s victims escalate from a cat stuck on flypaper to people that may have some connection to one another, Marsh, co-worker Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), and Detective Eric Box (Billy Burke) close in on the party responsible.
And they do find the killer, sooner than one might expect at the end of act two, and as his motivations are revealed I was genuinely satisfied with the film, which had proven an interesting and mildly compelling diversion for a little over an hour.
Then it all goes to hell, as the killer begins to track our heroine, as must happen in these films (despite the killer lacking any kind of motivation to do so here).
The plot, of course, requires both the killer and our heroine to behave like complete idiots and make themselves easy prey. Film arrives at the expected conclusion, but requires drastic changes in character and leaps of faith from the viewer in order to do so. I was unable to forgive these lapses; you may feel differently.
Oddly, the intricate moral question at the heart of the film is mostly left unexplored: would you watch someone die if you knew your act of watching it was speeding up the process?
I’d come up with some quippy line here implicating viewers of Untraceable in the career fatalities of its filmmakers, but the film isn’t that bad. Only its ending.