I'm glad to have seen this, if for no other reason than because now I know what it looks like when you make a torture porn movie that grandmothers can enjoy. It's Hostel meets Under the Tuscan Sun*, and the audience I saw it with lapped it up.
The premise is clever: a psycho launches a website showing a victim being slowly killed. The more hits the website gets, the faster the murder proceeds. Meanwhile, Diane Lane and her FBI partners investigate and bemoan their inability to stop the maniac.
It's a concept that could have been taken a number of different ways, and the route taken by director Gregory Hoblit is revealing of the differences between 'horror' and 'suspense thrillers' targeted at mainstream audiences - and that just because a movie decides to be 'respectable' doesn't mean that it's actually a quality piece of work.
So here's what you do if you have a torture porn-script but you want to expand your demographic base beyond the youth market: Hire a sensitive, yet tough actress for the leading role a la Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs; keep the gore and the violence (that's what people are there for) but tone them down; make most of the movie's victims men to avoid the stain of sexist exploitation; add in a lot of gently hypocritical handwringing about how violence in the media is corrupt and debasing to take away the residual guilt in the audience's mind about being there, with a few backhanded political swipes at such foolish ideas as "Net Neutrality" and preventing NSA supercomputers from spying on American citizens; and above all, keep the production values up high, with strong cinematography and art direction, to keep the audience from realizing that they're still watching your standard scummy torture movie.
The result is a movie that entertains but doesn't have anything substantive to say, that raises interesting points about violence online and in the media but uses them hypocritically or for simple shock value. I can't say I was offended by the movie, but honestly, I would have preferred if the filmmakers were a little more imaginative and a little less interested in making a movie that would climax with the cathartic death-wish glee of seeing a tough woman blow away a demented young man. It's too easy. I want to make a time machine and bring '70s-era Larry Cohen or Brian DePalma to make this movie the right way. Oh well.
* I call first dibs on this for a pitch. Don Murphy, you know how to reach me.