The history of films dealing with computers and more specifically with the internet is littered with abysmal failures and abject absurdities. Upon hearing that yet another thriller set around the online world is due to be released, film fans would be right to shake their heads and look elsewhere. For Untraceable, however, that might not be entirely fair; for once the tech and lingo are just about spot on.

Agents Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) and Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) are FBI agents working in the cybercrime division, tasked with tracking down online predators, hackers and scammers that prey on America’s innocent.Untraceable When they are tipped off to a new website that features a live video feed of a kitten being killed they are hopeful nothing more serious will come of it, but the progression from feline to human victims is terrifyingly swift. The victims are tortured in various ways, with the speed of their demise linked to a hitcounter for the website, such that the killer can proclaim that anyone viewing is accessory to murder.

For once, the writers get much of the technology and language of this world correct – more accurately, the use of terminology and the interaction between the online and real worlds are plausible, if not actually likely. Several improbabilities remain, but for the most part the writers are spot on and the actors don’t sound ridiculous using terms best known to geeks. This is no mean feat given the terrible portrayal of cybercrime in most films of the genre, and it at least gives hope that the setting is more than merely a gimmick.

That plausibility is its greatest asset is somewhat disappointing, as the mechanics of the thriller are often neglected and the performances fairly dull. Several of the characters are nothing more imaginative than archetypes, and are often left underdeveloped. Lane is reasonable in the lead, although must bear the usual ‘what on earth would she do that for?’ moments that plague thrillers and horror movies. Around her, Hanks seems to have perfected the innocuous everyman, and Billy Burke underplays his Detective Box to such an extent he is almost forgotten.

Untraceable attempts to carry off a meaningful exploration of the disconnection of online and real world values as well as a discussion of the prevalence of voyeurism, and succeeds at neither. The film often veers into the realms of ‘torture porn’ while trying to make comment on our interest in such material, and this is more than a little dishonest. Perhaps if the idea that everyone who watched was partially responsible had been further developed the film would have been more interesting, but in its latter stages it degenerates into standard thriller fare.

Untraceable does manage to generate a degree of tension, although its effect is far less than it could have been and may be overwhelmed by the audience’s distaste for some of what is presented onscreen. Wait for dvd.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 27th April 2008
Hoopla Factor: 2.5 stars

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