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Never judge a book by its cover¦or a film. The Den, one of Fright Fest’s last showings of the evening, plays to an empty cinema but gut instinct led me to fill one seat; an instinct I would come to appreciate.
Writer and director Zach Donohue, exposes the darker side of online chat rooms in this Hostel for the digital age. It hosts a small cast of new talent with Melanie Papalia (American Pie Presents: The Book of Love and Suits) as Elizabeth, a post-grad student awarded a grant to study the behavior and habits of users of The Den; an online video chat room. David Schlachtenhaufen co-stars as Elizabeth’s love interest Damien, and Adam Shapiro (A Single Man and Now You See Me) plays faithful friend Max.
The Den is shot entirely through webcams – a risky, but ultimately genius, approach. As we follow Elizabeth trawl through dozens of randomized conversations, the initial light-hearted tone soon takes a dark twist when she witnesses what appears to be the murder of a girl on screen. Elizabeth’s investigations into the murder take her into dangerous territory, and soon she realizes that she has become a part of something much bigger than she expected, putting the lives of her and her friends at risk.
Female leads in horror often lack the ability to make an audience empathize with them, often due to the stereotypical weakness and vulnerability of their character. However, Melanie Papalia is convincing and likeable as Elizabeth, allowing the viewer to connect with her anxieties and fears that we experience together through her laptop screen.
The Den takes an inanimate object that belongs in millions of homes and turns it into a tool of terror. Something useful and popular is now invasive and sinister; words not usually associated with the Facetimes or Skypes of this world. Zach Donohue uses cunning creativity to piece together his narrative. This film is a tormenting ride of intense stress and ˜he’s behind you’ moments. The plot, idea and set up was simple but the outcome was exhausting and impactful.