The hacker movie.
It is one of those subgenres which has come and gone, often morphing into either the spy film or the political thriller, the virtual reality film, the runaway A.I. film, the stalker film, or other equally unlikely categories of film.
It has also had a somewhat tenuous connection to science fiction as it is always far from clear how close to reality the tech used by our fictional hackers (or, as in films like War Games, the capabilities of their computers) might actually come.,
At its best we’re talking bleeding edge technologies which often bleed straight into out and out fantasy.
Which is another way of saying that I’m not entirely sure where we should file Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows.
However, it is also one of my favorites of the Spanish director’s films — and, notably, his first English language film. He’d made a name for himself with his Oscar winning short, 7:35 in the Morning, and then made a series of brilliant but eccentric science fiction films, starting with Time Crimes. His second film, Extraterrestrial, offered the oddest take ever on the Alien Invasion film, but it really didn’t prepare us for his next film, Open Windows.
But, after all, no two of his films have ever been the same.
Instead, Open Windows is supposedly the view of events on the screen of Nick Chamber’s laptop computer. Nick (Elijah Wood) is the head of a fan club dedicated to Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey), the Hollywood star of a series of zombie movies, and he’s been given special access to the Festival where she is unveiling her latest project.
But something has gone wrong, he doesn’t get his interview with her for his fan magazine, and an unseen voice talking to him over his computer drags him into an increasingly bizarre plot against Jill…
What surprised me, when I saw a behind the scenes video about the film, was that they had to repeat the same series of events exactly, over and over, to get all the shots from various angles they needed. After all, each separate view of what is happening appearing on Nick’s screen (most of it coming from the various security cameras the villain is hacking into — or persuading Nick to hack) had to be shot separately. The match is seamless, even though we often see multiple takes running on the screen at the same time. It is done so well that no one would ever guess the trick.
But then that is a large part of the film’s charm, as it all looks like low quality surveillance footage — and very accidental — and yet every image required careful planning.
Now, as this is an all-out action movie with a lot of thoroughly wild non-stop sequences involving cars, fights and explosions, there’s a lot of planning involved, even if the more-or-less found footage nature of the film does inevitably get strained a bit along the way. This is particularly true once we get towards the climax of the film, when Nick is far too busy to choose what images are on the screen, and it becomes harder and harder to believe that what we’re seeing are the automatic choices of the computer. Mind you, the switch from a full screen image to our first glimpse of the main screen doesn’t look quite right, either.
One of the strangest visuals we see involves a gestalt image generated from a bag full of small cameras, where we see a wireframe projection of the people and things near the cameras, with occasional flashes of images appearing within this 3-D framework. It plays a major part in the climax and is used with a lot of confidence (with, again, the computer making a lot of clearly aesthetic decisions!) but it is a little hard to buy.
Even if it is a pretty cool visual.
However, even though I’m pretending to be dispassionate, I’m still in love with this film after three or more viewings, spread out over several years. It all races along at an incredible pace, finding wild new ways to tell its story, and throwing one twist after another at us, including one which changes everything we’ve seen so far. I love the French Hacker team, Triops, who first appear as weird, green-lit masked figures in a darkened room before being revealed as something more routine; and the movie’s little games with time and place, where seeing everything that happens so often proves far more deceptive than we realize.
It’s been six years since Vigalondo’s last major film, the bizarre Kaiju film, Colossal (2016), with only a handful of anthology film entries, TV show episodes, a Spanish-language movie host gig, and a minor writing credit on the so-so Paradise Hills (2019) to show for it, and I really miss him. While previously, he would announce his new project right around the time he was promoting his latest film, he never did this after Colossal, and it’s far from clear whether we’ll see another major film from him anytime soon. Right now, IMDB lists a rather mysterious new film, The Comeback, which supposedly came out in China back in January. While it was originally talked-up as a feature film (or possibly as a tv series), it is listed as a twenty-three minute short and I have no idea whether this is a pilot film, part of a larger project, an attempt to raise money for the full film, or just a stray short.
Either way, I am looking forward to it, even if his entries into the various horror anthology films haven’t been too impressive (which is a strange thing to say about someone who has made some of the best short films ever, like 2002’s Código 7).
In the meantime, he’s got four great feature films to go back and re-watch.
But I’m still hoping for more.
That’s just part of the human condition, I’m afraid.
And, if you still haven’t seen it yet, then you really need to check out Open Windows, which is an eccentric and unique take on a very familiar type (or, I suppose more accurately, “types”) of movie, and a lot of wild and unpredictable fun…