(N:) Someone who hacks personal devices to stalk their victim's lives
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to our review of Voyeuristic horror movie Ratter from 2015. So I am going back a few years here. Horror pickings are a bit slim at the moment. With this in mind, I decided to go back and pick up some movies from the past decade. Stuff I have seen before, stuff I have missed, stuff I wanted to watch but didn’t. We have a nice mix of movies coming up. Some of which will be working towards one theme or another.
Focusing on the story of young student Emma (Ashley Benson). Ratter sees our main character moving to the city of New York for university. Having experienced a somewhat traumatic relationship. She is looking to get away from it all and start again. It isn’t long, however, before she begins experiencing strange events. Her photos disappear. She receives strange text messages from a blocked number. And it appears she is being stalked. The question is, who is the culprit and how far will they go?
So where does the name Ratter come from? Well, supposedly, it is a person who hacks devices to stalk someone. I have never actually heard this term used in this way before. I actually don’t think the term is in common enough use to title a movie after it. In my opinion, many viewers will be confused before the film even starts.
Given the context of the events taking place. Ratter is presented in the much maligned Found Footage style. Filmed through the eyes of Emma’s phone camera, Kinect and laptop. I suppose you could also class this movie as something of a screenlife horror. Not in the traditional sense, of course. But certainly in the method of filming. Wherever Emma is, there is a phone or a laptop providing the footage. Naturally, it bears mention that this style isn’t for everyone.
Many people despise found footage as it is. Ratter’s specific style of filming is unlikely to change your opinion. When shots are not completely static as if filmed from a laptop. They are bouncing around excessively as if filmed by a phone. The phone is often placed in a bag. Shoved under a table or sat next to the bed. It’s a little bit messy to be honest.
As with many found footage movies. These presentation styles create more continuity issues than anything. You find yourself constantly wondering why Emma always has her phone out. She dances with it at a night club, she puts it in her bag, camera side up. She takes her laptop into the bathroom to play music. While also keeping it open on a side table while she sleeps. It isn’t long before it all begins to feel a little bit awkward.
The premise of this movie really doesn’t hold up. The need to present scenes from different angles undermines the entire structure. Shots that clearly couldn’t have come from any particular device litter the movie. Making it so as the concept doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Especially when you consider how oblivious Emma is.
She takes no action to prevent these things from happening. She does little to correct them when they do happen. And takes no action to secure her home or belongings. It is a bit silly, all things considered. There are numerous leaps of logic throughout the movie. Forcing the viewer to suspend disbelief repeatedly. The premise here, however, is not Ratter’s major issue.
I am quite a big fan of voyeuristic horror. As I have mentioned before in my reviews of 13 Cameras and its sequel 14 Cameras. The thought of your privacy being invaded. In the very place you should feel safest is incredibly effective. Stories of sordid individuals placing hidden cameras in places they shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, are scarily common. Coffee shop toilets are a particularly vulnerable target for this type of thing. It is a real enough phenomenon that it warrants vigilance whenever you are in a public location. Particularly toilets or changing rooms.
Ratter forgoes the tried and tested hidden camera method of voyeurism. Instead choosing to have our unseen antagonist hack into Emma’s devices. Once again, this is a very real threat. There are numerous examples of people maliciously hacking security cameras. Purely for a little bit of fun or to torment home owners. It is something we should all take seriously. This makes the utilisation of voyeurism as a horror device all the more effective.
Imagine showering or using the bathroom. Completely unaware that you are being watched. The sheer thought is horrifying. Even if it was purely from a voyeuristic standpoint. Horror, naturally takes it up another notch. With the peeping inevitably turning into home invasion and worse. Again, this is a tremendously real threat. Just take the utterly tragic case of Laura Giddings. This type of horror, when done properly, can be some of the most effective.
Unfortunately, Ratter completely fails at this. The window into the life of Emma proves to be a somewhat boring one. Filled with days of staying indoors. Dancing or playing tennis on her Microsoft Kinect. Singing along to music and shaving her legs. It’s all horribly mundane. I understand, this is probably the average day for a lot of people. But it does not make for decent horror content. In fact, the horror element of Ratter is completely non-existent. Is it not at all tense and has zero scares. There is little in the way of escalation and the voyeuristic elements are poorly fleshed out.
Whereas movies like the fantastic Alone With Her constantly up the threat. Spying on our protagonist in her most vulnerable moments. Following her outside of the house. Consistently upping the lengths her stalker will go to. Ratter chooses, instead, to focus on Emma’s most boring moments. Almost never engaging in escalation and presenting minimal malicious interference in her life. Ratter never really goes anywhere and never feels particularly serious.
This is an almost PG presentation of voyeuristic horror. Keen to avoid depicting the truly heinous side of the crime. There is no real violence, no physical stalking. No grotesque moments of personal interference in Emma’s life. Very limited scares.
There isn’t even any nudity. Something that is a staple in movies like this. Often used incredibly effectively to highlight character vulnerability. This is despite the movie willingly engaging in gratuitous cleavage shots. Purely for the sake of titillation (Ha!). I know what you are thinking. This is Ashley Benson, she got those tig ol’ bitties. She can’t help the copious amounts of boobage. But the shots here are very deliberate. Ratter completely misses what makes voyeuristic horror scary. By the time the ending rolls around. It is very clear that the movie is out of ideas. This leads me on to another point.
Ratter has one of those endings that will really piss people off. It is utterly inconsequential. I can only describe it as a shoulder shrug from the writer. This speaks to a bigger problem with this movie in general. It is not actually a story. There is no meat on the bones. It is not at all fleshed out. It is simply a concept and nothing more. The result of someone who had an idea for a movie. Decided not to build on it and thought it would be fine as it is.
Whether this is down to Ratter originally being based on a short film, I am not sure. Featuring a woman being stalked through her laptop. Brandon Kramer’s 8 minute long Webcam was the inspiration for Ratter. Much like many other movies based on Shorts. Ratter actually feels like an 8 minute story stretched out to over an hour. It is completely lacking in intrigue and is about as thin of a plot as you can get. What a shame because I really enjoy this type of horror.
Acting is fine. Ashley Benson stars as our protagonist Emma. She has, obviously, gone on to do pretty well. Including starring in a similar role in Pretty Little Liars. She does a good job here, particularly in the final scenes. Benson does fall into some of the familiar traps of screenlife horror. She struggles to react authentically to text messages she is receiving. Despite them being crucial to the plot and, seemingly, shocking. She also has a tendency to steal from the intimacy of the presentation. Pulling her top down to hide her underwear etc. Something that someone is unlikely to bother doing in their own home. It’s not a huge thing, though.
Everyone else is fine in minor roles. The movie throws a few red herrings at you so there is a fairly wide cast. Matt McGorry has the biggest side role as Michael and does okay. Rebecca Naomi Jones, as Emma’s friend Nicole, is absolutely fine. She brings a little levity to the movie. Her character’s constant dismissal of Emma’s concerns can be annoying, though. Kaili Vernoff has a small voiceover role as Emma’s mum. Her performance towards the end of the movie is noteworthy. A good example of effective, emotional, voice work.
Cinematography is okay given the source. Obviously the static shots can get old fast. The shots from inside Emma’s bag or on her lap are annoying. Many of the shots make little sense, as well. Especially given what they were supposedly recorded from. It’s what you would expect from this type of movie, though.
Not at all. This is a voyeuristic horror that is as bare bones as they come. Featuring little more than an idea. This movie is poorly fleshed out and completely lacking in scares. A barely developed story offers little in the way of intrigue. Voyeuristic elements are PG levels of tame. Never really making you feel as though the character’s privacy has been invaded. The story is slow and boring. There are absolutely no scares and the ending is incredibly frustrating.
To be honest, I would recommend the 13 Cameras series over this. At least they fully commit to their voyeuristic scenes. Actually managing to feel like someone was at some sense of risk. Unless you are a big Ashley Benson fan or just love Found Footage horror. You can safely skip this one. Watch the much better Alone With Her instead.