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“Ratter” is a term referring to an animal used to catch rats, like a cat or dog. It is also an urban slang term that has multiple meanings. It can be used to describe someone, usually female, who has had many sexual partners, a woman’s lady parts, someone that pisses you off, or according to this film’s trailer, “a hacker who hijacks a computer or device to watch unsuspecting victims.” Obviously the latter applies here, as the film focuses on the cyber-stalking of the very pretty, girl-next-door Emma (Ashley Benson). Emma has just moved to NYC from Wisconsin for college. Unknown to the young woman, an anonymous stalker has hacked into her communication devices and watches her every move from her cellphone or laptop. Soon Emma begins to realize someone is invading her privacy as the mysterious individual enters every aspect of her life…including her apartment.
While it is short on any big scares, writer/director Branden Kramer’s thriller does get under your skin with it’s depiction of a sweet young girl being watched continuously in her every private moment. It plays very much like Eric Nicholas’ 2006 Alone With Her, which featured a similar story of a young woman being stalked, initially without her knowledge. In Ratter, Kramer decides to tell his tale completely from Emma’s phone and laptop, much like the equally chilling 2013 The Den, which warned of what lurks in chatrooms. Here the warning is of how easily traceable people have become with not being able to go anywhere or do anything without their faithful cellphone nearby. We watch the drama unfold completely from the stalker’s point of view. At first Emma is totally unaware of her secret admirer, as he watches her in the bathroom and while she’s sleeping, even snapping pictures of her in private moments with her own cellphone. It is creepy and it should be. The tension builds as this person starts to make his presence known through inappropriate e-mails, silent phone calls and harassing her, all the while framing Mike (Matt McGorry), a young man from school whom she’s just started seeing. Things get even creepier as we watch him enter Emma’s apartment while she’s out and even while she’s there asleep. Her privacy is completely stripped away and is invaded when she is at her most vulnerable. It’s all the more unnerving as it seems random, as if it could happen to anyone. Kramer makes an unsettling film and while it could have been a bit more intense, the slow simmering burn does work and we are quite uncomfortable with watching this girl being observed from her own devices and then slowly falling apart when she finds out, she’s being stalked. It’s spooky, more so because it happens.
The flick is far from perfect. There are some instances that are a bit cliché…like Emma getting a cat whose fate we know is sealed from the moment we meet it…and a plot point about an important message the stalker deletes concerning a crucial meeting, is just forgotten about. It also ends a bit abruptly, but it’s climax is effective as this obviously was leading to some sort of confrontation. Not a nailbiting thriller, but a subtly unnerving little movie about the negative side-effects of having everything we own connect through cyberspace and how easily our privacy can be invaded by someone with a little computer savvy and a demented mind.
While we do have a couple of supporting characters, the flick is mostly all on Ashley Benson’s shoulders and she carries it well. Benson is very good at quickly creating a likable character, so we care what happens to her from early on. Emma is smart and sweet and very pretty and since we like her, we cringe when the creepy invader is snapping pictures of her feet while she shaves her legs or simply as she sleeps unaware…all with her own laptop and cellphone. Benson then ups the intensity when Emma discovers she’s being stalked and we get a girl who starts to come apart with paranoia and fear. Again, the film could have been a bit more intense, but Miss Benson gets a lot out of what she has to work with. Matt McGorry is likable as Mike, the boy Emma starts to date and her stalker starts to hate and Rebecca Naomi Jones is spunky as Emma’s friend Nicole from school. A very small cast and they are all good.
Overall, I liked this flick as an entertaining evening on the couch. The cyber-stalking thing isn’t really new anymore, nor is watching the proceedings from our subjects’ devices. The thought of someone watching us while we are unaware, is still unsettling, as is the thought of someone in our homes while we slumber…and Branden Kramer does use these creepy tropes well. Add in a solid leading lady and it’s an unnerving enough 80 minutes though never truly as frightening as the premise would suggest or we’d hoped it would be.