THE DEN (2013)
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The Den is one of those pleasant little surprises that you watched out of moderate curiosity and enjoyed far more than expected. It also sets it’s horror story completely on the laptop of it’s lead character, a full year before Unfriended. The story tells of pretty Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia from Extraterrestrial) who has received a grant to do a social study of people who populate internet chat sites. The site she chooses for her 24/7 study is “The Den.” She meets all sorts of strange people and, as can be expected in a horror flick like this, catches the attention of a deranged and dangerous individual. Soon she is being cyber-stalked, her computer hacked, her life invaded and her friends and loved ones start o fall victim to some masked assailant. Can Elizabeth escape this maniac?…or will she be their next victim?
Directed by Zachary Donohue and co-written by he and Lauren Thompson, this is actually a clever and effective little horror/thriller with some gruesome and disturbing moments. More than a year before Unfriended and even a few weeks before Open Windows, Donohue sets his entire thriller on Elizabeth’s laptop and phone so we see her POV of those she’s watching and the POV of those watching her. What unfolds is nothing new to the slasher sub-genre, with a young victim being chosen and stalked and those around her put in harm’s way, but, the stage it plays out on is novel…for when it was made…and there are some moments that use the POV format very well. Donohue keeps us involved and there is some suspense and it’s only in the last act when it takes a bit of a “Hostel” turn, that the familiarity really starts to sink in…though it still worked well enough and provided some action caught on the various cameras. While it’s ending was nothing new and a bit abrupt, it still added a chill, so, it worked.
Another real big factor in this working as well as it does, is leading lady Melanie Papalia. The entire movie rests on her shoulders and she carries it well. Elizabeth is a sweet, ambitious and likable girl who is thrust into a nightmarish situation. Papalia plays her terror well, but, adds a strength and resilience to her character that helps make her resourcefulness and toughness believable when she has to fight tooth and nail for her life. The Extraterrestrial actress makes an impressive and endearing heroine and hopefully, she gets to play final girl more often. Also stars David Schlachtenhaufen, Adam Shapiro, Katija Pevec and Anna Margaret Hollyman as Elizabeth’s friends and loved ones but, it is Papalia’s show all the way.
I liked The Den. It’s no classic and it’s far from perfect but, it is surprisingly more effective than one might expect from a little movie set entirely on a laptop. The slasher story is familiar, despite the novel cyber setting, but, Donohue makes it work well enough and his firecracker leading lady carries this internet horror on her pretty but, sturdy shoulders. It’s not going to revolutionize horror and you might forget about it six months from now, but, for 80+ minutes, it’s entertaining, has some effective and disturbing sequences and introduces us to a director and actress we’d like to see more of. I’d say check it out if you have the chance. Cool little flick.
BE WARNED: Trailer is spoiler-ish…