Untraceable is a perfectly reasonable thriller, so far as jacked-in, computer-savvy serial killers and their campaigns against whatever pisses them off are concerned. Hate the tech-centric modern age and the cultural backwash that makes up 95 per cent of the content on the internet? Then this one’s for you. Want to see a movie that revisits the loner recluse killer archetype? Again, this one’s for you. For everyone else, Untraceable is a surprisingly passable thriller that actually works pretty hard to take what little ground it does.
The FBI’s cyber-crime division gets a tip about a website called killwithme.com on which a cat is shown being slowly killed in a streaming video. The case falls in the lap of Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) as they quickly rundown the site to find that it’s impossible to close down and impossible to locate its broadcasting location. The killer, later imaginatively dubbed “The Internet Killer”, soon moves to human victims, his killing devices linked to the number of viewers; the greater number of people watching, the great the severity of the device, hastening the death of the victim.
In the Hollywood mix and match game I guess this could be called Saw meets Hackers; the killer’s elaborate death traps are instantly reminiscent of that tetraology of the macabre and I don’t think in a good way because it’s Saw-light and I’m not impressed. What did get me though was the way filmmaker Gregory Hoblit was able to adequately ratchet up the tension enough so that the action on screen wasn’t passive or unrealistic. This is no ghost face killer, thankfully, it’s perfectly plausible and perhaps all the more frightening because of that added believability factor.
Several things though hold the movie back from achieve better than better than average status. For one thing I knew who the killer was going to be from the opening credits. Seriously, I saw the name on screen and said to myself, “Oh, he’s the killer.” Don’t ask me why. Also, the climax falls victim to the “stupid cop” syndrome, where a law enforcement official, who should obviously know better, does something so moronic you’re practically yelling at the screen in dismay at how idiotic someone, who obviously should know better, is acting.
Acting on the other hand was actually what helped sell it, especially Diane Lane as the lead despite her character’s aforementioned brain fart. She’s really able to convey the human component of the story and makes you care about the actions on screen rather than let you passively await the next deadly booby trap. Billy Burke plays rumpled detective well, providing a good balance between the computer tracking stuff and the actual, real-time police work.
Thankfully the film also avoids some of the obvious character traps like last minute rescues, dead relatives or otherwise endangering of the lead character’s child. The typical procedural clichés, for the most part, are overcome and I was grateful for the effort.