Woe be for The Internet, a magical place still being redefined and tweaked since Al Gore pulled the concept from deep within the lockbox of his mind. Ancient political jokes aside, The Internet receives more hassle than you’d expect from mainstream media, which treats it as a tool of sinister hackers (The Net, Firewall) or a way for serial killers and stalkers to track victims more efficiently (Perfect Stranger, Swimfan). Hell, it even unleashes pure evil (Kairo; Ghost in the Machine). The Internet is clearly for more than porn—it’s also to scare the bejesus out of luddites and uninspiring first dates.
And so we now have Untraceable, a perfectly ordinary addition to that thriller sub-genre which might be titled, “New Media Will Kill You!” Never mind that it’s nearly a decade too late to be afraid of the Internet, so screenwriter Allison Burnett (Feast of Love) decides to focus his scribblings on that ubiquitous Internet Hate Machine called “Anonymous.” Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) is a member of the Portland F.B.I. cyber-crimes bureau who, along with her partners Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks) and Tim Wilks (Tyrone Giordano), patrols the Internet for pesky music swappers and P2P servers, and also manages fake IM accounts to trap pedophiles. One rainy night she happens upon the all-too-blunt “killwithme.com” and discovers a serial killer who uses web hits to speed up the deaths of his victims in ways that would make Darren Lynn-Bousman and James Wan ask why they didn’t think of that. (If this becomes the premise for Saw V, I wouldn’t be surprised.)
Untraceable is like Firewall—except with more shower scenes that feature Diane Lane and no iPods being used to hack mainframes. The film contains what may be the world’s lamest double entendre: when a Trojan virus is delivered to Marsh’s home she exclaims, “He got into my wireless network—all the way in!” Well, technically, he didn’t go into your wireless network. He gained remote access of your desktop via a program he sent to you that gave him your IP address, but first he mined your files and passwords that you (probably the only person in the world without anti-virus software) didn’t bother to encrypt. But what do I know?
Untraceable doesn’t give its audience any credit, relying on inane shock tactics and foreshadowing—especially when it comes to a subplot involving morse code—and having Giordano’s deaf character save the day only after Marsh sees a victim mouthing words and realizes, “WAIT! THE DEAF GUY CAN READ LIPS!” Then there’s the portrayal of a Internet geek who is a vocal supporter of the killer: he winds up just being a gay male who burns pornos and redistributes them because no “normal” person ever does anything illegal.
Untraceable makes it perfectly clear that if you use the Internet for more than email and dating, you’re a sick pervert that deserves to go to jail—no matter the age, as referenced after a sting operation reveals the film’s criminal mastermind to be an 8-year old child, who is then led away in handcuffs while Ms. Marsh (Diane Lane) sips her coffee and smiles. The film is like a feature-length version of the classic screamer Kill With Us: drab, boring and topped off with a lame shock stunt to make you sit up and pay attention. Because Internet is serious business—and it’s gonna kill you! Booga booga booga!
John Lichman is a freelance writer who contributes to The Reeler, Primetime A&E [print only] and anyone with cash. He works odd jobs to afford his vices, sleeps on couches and can drink Vadim Rizov under a table.