I’m on record as saying how I hate the way computers are used in television and films, especially crime procedurals. As a self-professed computer geek, I’m well aware of what computers are capable of, and especially aware of what they are not, and there’s nothing that infuriates me more than when a screenwriter takes liberties with both a computer’s capabilities, as well as the general level of knowledge of those less technically inclined. So it’s with great pleasure that a film like “Untraceable” comes along; a film that’s not only a crafty thriller, but also a competently written cyber-crime drama that finally seems as though it were written by people who actually know what the hell they’re talking about.
Diane Lane stars as Agent Jennifer Marsh, an investigator for F.B.I.’s Cyber Crimes division’s Portland, Oregon branch. A widow with a young daughter, Jennifer works the night shift along with her single-and-searching partner, Griffin (Colin Hanks), where the two monitor pedophile’s chat sessions, identity theft, and all manner of internet illegalities whilst Griffin waxes philosophical about his active dating life and Jennifer’s lack of any life at all beyond the flickering cursor of her desktop. When a website – Killwithme.com – is brought to their attention, the duo is forced to watch as a kitten is tortured live, in front of an audience of viewers who are chatting about the event as though it were entertainment. Jennifer and Griffin try to track down the site’s owner, but find themselves lost in a hopeless web of mirror sites, bogus nameservers, and foreign hosts. The case isn’t exactly a high priority at the agency (being that the victim is a feline), but, when Killwithme.com comes back online with a human victim – one who is being pumped with blood-thinning drugs whose volume is determined by the amount of viewers on the site at any given time – Jennifer suddenly finds herself the lead investigator on a high profile case the likes of which the world has never seen. As the killer gathers new victims and more viewers, Jennifer becomes exposed, herself, and soon becomes a target of the mysterious webmaster’s murderous rage.
Someone asked me to describe Untraceable to them recently, and I said something along the lines of it being a “Saw for the over-forty set”. This is a pretty gruesome little flick but it’s also the sort of procedural that I think would entertain the C.S.I. fanbase a little bit more than the bloodthirsty Jigsaw fanatics. While there are admittedly some logic holes here and there, overall I found Untraceable to be a smartly written, engrossing, and fairly accurate cyber-thriller. The killer’s motivation is relatable, and, given his abilities and background, his seemingly elaborate torture techniques aren’t too far-fetched. I also found the film a sound indictment of the detachment viewers seem to feel when looking at hideous things online, as though it’s somehow less “real” or “wrong” when viewed under the anonymity the internet grants us (or so we think). It’s all very competently handled and, while it’s not going to blow any minds, Untraceable was far more entertaining than I expected it to be.
Sony, once again, provides a superlative package for one of its properties, with a lush and atmospheric 1080p MPEG-4 AVC transfer that provides an image of extreme clarity, depth, and detail. The film’s generally dark color palette of overcast grays, shadowy blacks, and murky blues and greens are perfectly reproduced here with nary a hint of bleed or blooming.
The Dolby HD 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive, with a wonderfully enveloping sound mix and accurate sonic imaging. This isn’t a film loaded with sound effects, but the ones that are present (seemingly endless rain, bubbling cauldrons of acid, the searing of flesh) are effectively mixed into an all-encompassing soundscape that really draws you into the film’s horrific torture sequences.
Sony offers up an abundance of extras, here, with a tech-heavy audio commentary by director Greg Hoblit, producer Hawk Koch, and production designer Paul Eads, and four featurettes adding up to just under an hour’s worth of “making-of” material. The EPK’s are all presented in 480p. The disc also boasts a “video commentary” entitled “Beyond the Cyber Bureau” that gathers elements presented in the featurettes and brings them up PiP style where relevant.
Untraceable got a bad rap when it was released theatrically, mostly by critics who found the film “crass” or “tasteless” due to its rather graphic depiction of torture. That’s to be expected, though, as the film stars mainstream actors and was marketed as a mainstream thriller when, at its heart, this is really just a slicker and more mature variation of the torture porn horror genre made popular by the aforementioned Saw franchise. To me, that’s a good thing. And with a package that’s just as slick, I’m going to recommend that fellow horror/thriller enthusiasts put this one on their short list.