The Den (Hacked) Review
While studying the habits of web cam chat users from the apparent safety of her own home, a young woman's life begins to spiral out of control after witnessing a grisly murder online.
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Welcome back to Knockout Horror and to our review of The Den (aka Hacked). Would you believe it, we are checking out another Screenlife horror. Today’s movie is one of the earliest examples of the computer screen horror style. It could also be classed as something of a Social Media Themed Horror. Preceding Unfriended by a year. The Den released in 2013 to a fairly positive reception. Following the story of a woman frequenting a Chatroulette style service. Hoping to study her interactions for a university project. This is a movie that takes place almost entirely through webcams and computers.
As you may have guessed. We are going to be putting together a list or two based on this theme. I am a fairly big fan of Screenlife horror. The genre has crossed over into the mainstream over the past few years, as well. I think there are some interesting offerings here. Due to the success of the fantastic Host. I really think we will be seeing more movies like this in the future. It’s an easy medium to work with. It offers directors an opportunity to get creative. And the movies are cheap to make. Requiring only a few cameras, actors and a decent story.
Horror Naming Woes
I have actually ended up watching The Den about four times now. I remember checking this movie out for the first time years ago. I believe, at the time, it was referred to as Hacked. A few years later I inadvertently watched it again. Found Footage is a guilty pleasure of mine. Just check out how many Found Footage movies I have reviewed for proof. I haven’t even reviewed that many movies yet. Found Footage comprises over 10% of them. My partner and I were right on the pulse of the sub-genre for a good few years. Ready and waiting to fire up the next low budget, often hilariously bad, low quality horror.
So when I read the synopsis for The Den. I thought, “hmm seems familiar but very intriguing”. I am sure you can imagine my surprise. I made it a couple of minutes in before a few scenes started to feel familiar. Namely the main character prancing around in front of the cam in skimpy underwear. And some random dude swinging his cock on a webcam. I then realised what had happened. Aren’t name changes in movies a weird thing? Obviously, the main reason is regional differences. Some names can’t be used in some territories for various reasons. In the UK, we seem to see this happen a lot. Gnaw is another example. I believe it is more commonly known as Apartment 212 in the US.
Yet Another Screenlife Horror Movie
So, as mentioned above. The Den is yet another Screenlife horror movie. The thing that stands out here, however. Is the fact that The Den dates back to a year or so before Unfriended. Whereas you couldn’t describe the movie as one of the originators of the style. That accolade would, more correctly, go to The Collingswood Story. With Megan is Missing and even a segment from the original V/H/S preceding the movie by a few years, as well. The Den was still adopting the format at a time when few other directors were.
The Screenlife style hadn’t really proved itself as of yet. Still feeling, very much, like an experimental approach to movie making. Directors were taking a risk producing movies in this format. Naturally, things have changed quite a lot now. We are at a point where significant mainstream movies have followed this blueprint. Host was a massive hit in 2020. We also have the Unfriended series – Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web. As well as Timur Bekmambetov’s other screenlife thriller hit Searching. But back then this was something of a movie making Hail Mary. Found footage, alone, is not for everyone. When you condense that formula down even further. You are left with a format that is even more likely to split the audience.
Still, when applied by a capable movie maker. This is an approach that can work. We have given positive reviews to most of the Screenlife horror movies we have covered. The only real exception being Ghost Webcam. I even think The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger. Despite sounding like an early 2000’s post hardcore track. Is one of the better segments from VHS. So how does The Den hold up today? Let’s take a look.
Unsurprisingly Formulaic and Predictable
Now that isn’t the best header to start this review off with. But we will see, a little later on, how that isn’t a tremendous problem here. The Den follows a very tried and tested formula. Focusing on a young woman pitching an idea for her sociology graduate course. The Den sees our protagonist, Elizabeth, spending time on webcam chat sites. Aiming to calculate how many meaningful interactions she can have with people. She leaves her camera on 24/7 and frequents the chat site throughout the day. When she connects to someone who doesn’t have a camera. Instead choosing to use a picture of a young woman. Her experiment begins to go incredibly wrong.
Naturally, from that description, this doesn’t sound all that familiar of a concept. But it is the way things play out here that will cause a little Deja-vu. The Den, at its heart, feels like a slasher movie. Taking standard and expected tropes of vicious kills, character harassment and protagonist stalking. And projecting them through the medium of a webcam. This is a fairly traditional horror. The scares are not particularly inventive and the movie is rather predictable. A killer hiding in the shadows is the same regardless of how it is presented. Seeing it through a webcam or a video call doesn’t change that. You have seen this all before, just with a shinier coat of paint.
Internet Safety Observations
Where The Den separates itself, somewhat, is in some of its social observations. Themes of online dependence, cyber paranoia, and internet security. Still feel quite timely today. This is a movie keen to point out that the internet is a dangerous place. The way The Den does this is rather on the nose. Presenting the world of random webchats as places replete with a cast of weirdos. Not so subtly suggesting. That the majority of internet denizens are depraved and morally bankrupt. Elizabeth meets a whole host of odd people. Each one keen to either prank her, expose themselves or simply to insult her.
The people around Elizabeth chastise her. Reminding her that she shouldn’t have expected anything less from people on the net. The message here is very clear. Protect your online anonymity and stay away from the weirdos. Still, in a world that is constantly online. That is a difficult thing to do.
Actor Melanie Papalia claims that she spent time in video chatrooms. Talking with strangers and researching for this role. The results of which further confirmed, for her, the message The Den is trying to get across. People, when able to hide behind a keyboard or when they feel there is no consequence. Will allow their morally depraved sides to flourish. Something that, as the movie comes to an end, is made all too glaringly obvious.
A Presentation That Still Feels Fresh
As I mention many times in my reviews of Screenlife horror movies. The novelty of this genre hasn’t really worn off, yet. If you are willing to give Found Footage a chance. Then the enjoyment of Screenlife horror is just a tiny leap. If, however, you dislike Found Footage. This may be another step too far into the world of low budget horror cinema. Back in 2013, this movie felt very novel. It felt rather fresh. Affording some of the more formulaic elements a little extra dash of forgiveness.
That still rings true today; at least somewhat. The Den’s presentation is still interesting. The social experiment aspect of the movie makes for a fairly compelling basis. It offers an opportunity to explore the darker side of the internet. While also offering opportunities to inject a little humour here and there. And that is something The Den does fairly well. It can provoke a chuckle or two here and there. The webchat element can be really engaging, as well. Elizabeth never knows who will be on the other side of the camera. Affording the movie chances to subvert expectation.
The Novelty Wears Off Fairly Quickly
Unlike movies like Unfriended and Host. The novelty here seems to wear off pretty quickly. Whereas Unfriended: Dark Web and Host are tightly paced. The Den takes place over an extended period of time. Meaning that the concept here has to be stretched to a ridiculous level. The webchats become repetitive and its clear that the writers lacked ideas. There is only so many times you can see a massive foam phallus before the joke gets a bit old. Elizabeth’s opportunities to chat with interesting and unique people are wasted. The movie is far too quick to resort to cock jokes and men furiously masturbating.
Perhaps this is the reality of random video chats. But it does not make for interesting viewing. I think The Den really suffers for its single protagonist, as well. Other Screenlife horror movies tend to feature multiple people chatting. The Den, instead, opts to put the focus on one character. A character that isn’t particularly interesting and struggles to hold viewer interest. A larger cast or a bevy of more interesting random encounters would have helped a lot here. As it stands, it gets old pretty quick.
A Bit Silly at Times
Much like Unfriended: Dark Web. The Den falls into many of the same patterns of computer based silliness. While not being quite so ridiculous as the aforementioned. Much of what takes place in this movie doesn’t make much sense. Once again, master hackers able to penetrate any security system. People who gain full access to a computer through, seemingly, magical means. A group of side characters that, apparently, have no faith or belief in our protagonist. Omnipotent underground crime groups that are both everywhere and nowhere. The story has to take some giant leaps of logic to accommodate the horror.
With that being said. The Den does try fairly hard to keep things making sense. Elizabeth leaves her camera on all the time. Her laptop is always open meaning it is always connected to the net. She seems relatively naïve when it comes to the internet. Some of the things that happen are, at least, somewhat plausible. It is when the movie involves other characters that it really loses traction. Again, creating scenarios that seem utterly unbelievable. Robbing the movie of some tension and dulling the scares.
The Den is guilty of some farcical plot development, as well. Elizabeth is suffering a world of hurt thanks to her experiment. Despite this, she still manages to go jogging every morning. She still leaves her camera on all the time. She still lives as if nothing is happening. Call me old fashioned. But I would like to see a character impacted by what she is going through. Not as if it is little more than a minor inconvenience for her. Its as if she never links the events together. Believing all of the bad things she is experiencing to be coincidence. It is a bit silly, to be honest.
Still Fairly Easy To Watch
The Den is still a pretty easy movie to enjoy. Thanks to its fairly unique presentation. It isn’t particularly demanding. It’s interesting to see how the film makers are going to get around the limitations of the medium. The story progresses at a nice clip. And the movie’s slasher leanings feel like a good fit with its visual stylings. At its core, this is a familiar, old fashioned, horror. Just presented in a slightly different way.
Despite being predictable. Some of the events that take place are fairly compelling. The mystery unravels in a satisfying manner. It is easy to follow and a non-traditional ending deserves plenty of praise. The latter part of the movie can feel a little disjointed. Things really pick up and the movie visits a few destinations that it doesn’t get much from. But it is pretty high paced, at times, and the action can feel quite taut.
Scares are minimal and the movie can drag its feet a fair bit. Feeling a bit slow and meandering in parts. Some of the kills are pretty brutal, though. Focusing on themes of snuff movies and murder for entertainment. There is a cold and detached manner in which The Den presents its violence. It fits the theme well and can be quite shocking in parts. In much the same way as movies like Hostel. The Den can fill that urge for something a bit different. Without forcing the viewer to delve into something too strange. It is both familiar and novel at the same time.
Acting is Mixed
Acting is mixed. I feel like I am taking pot shots a little here. But I don’t feel as though Melanie Papalia brings a great deal to the role. It’s not that she is bad. Her performance just feels extremely generic and a bit phoned in. She feels rather bland and doesn’t bring much character to Elizabeth. Elizabeth almost has a feeling of being a “create a protagonist”. Very boring and extremely plain.
Papalia looks a little too old to play a young university student. It’s not a major thing but is far too common in horror. I thought she was a mid-30s business woman. Her interactions with other characters can feel rather generic. Her reactions to the things she sees on the webcams are muted. And she doesn’t do a particularly great job of actually looking like she is using a laptop. Instead keeping her point of focus on the camera. It’s a small nitpick but when you have watched all of these Screenlife horror movies. It’s the little things that count. She does come along nicely towards the final scenes, though.
Side characters are equally as generic. David Schlachtenhaufen, as Elizabeth’s boyfriend Damien, was okay. His interactions with Elizabeth didn’t feel particularly warm. He was just kind of there. I hate them both for the horribly noisy kissing scenes in the middle of the movie, as well. Can we not leave this shit out of horror or at least do it quietly? Misophonia suffers where you at? Adam Shapiro, as Max, seemed very angry all the way through for some reason. Katija Pevec, as Elizabeth’s friend Jenni, is probably the most believable actor. Bringing some character and personality to her role. It’s all a bit average but nothing majorly detrimental to the film.
Is It a Knockout?
Much like Unfriended and Unfriended: Dark Web. The Den isn’t what I would call a Knockout. It’s more of a match you would watch in the preliminary card. It goes 12 rounds and there is a split decision. Despite it being a bit of a slog with no major highlights. You don’t feel bad because you didn’t invest too much it it. The Den is completely watchable. You just really need to temper your expectations. You aren’t watching this movie for terrifying, tour-de-force, horror. You are watching it for something easy to follow. Something that might be quite enjoyable. And something you don’t have to apply too much thought to.
The screenlife presentation helps the movie more than it hinders it. Offering an element of novelty to the otherwise traditional style horror. It’s not particularly scary but some of the sequences can be quite interesting. Acting is mixed but the characters aren’t exactly at the core of the movie. This is an old fashioned style slasher with a different coat of paint. Whereas The Den doesn’t do as much with its computer based medium as other movies. It is keen to offer a message to the viewer. The internet is a bad place. There are a lot of depraved and morally bankrupt people here. And your online anonymity is something you should guard with ferocity.
If you enjoyed Unfriended. I don’t see any reason why you won’t enjoy this just as much. People who dislike Found Footage or Screenlife Horror. This is not going to change your mind. Everyone else, if you are looking for a slightly above average horror movie. The Den might fit the bill. Just don’t go in expecting too much.
Trailer: The Den (Hacked)
|Release Date:||14th May 2014|
|Movie Type:||Horror, Thriller, Mystery|
|Movie Length:||76 Min|
|Starring:||Melanie Papalia, Matt Riedy, David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Katija Pevec, Anna Margaret Hollyman|
|Directed By:||Zachary Donohue|
|Written By:||Zachary Donohue, Lauren Thompson|
|Produced By:||David Brooks, Dan Clifton|
|Parental Guidance:||Sexual content, violence, gore, language, full frontal male nudity|
|Also Known As:||Hacked|