Found-footage films don’t often receive much praise from critics or audience-members alike, and for a lot of just reasons at that. Most found-footage films aren’t very good, and for every halfway decent one, five suck. I haven’t enjoyed a lot of them, but I find myself looking for them. Maybe it’s because I am searching for that one horror found-footage film that really raises the bar and shows me something that I haven’t seen, or at least entertains me on more than just one or two levels. The Den succeeds at doing that and while it’s not saying much, The Den is the best found-footage horror film that I have seen. I haven’t seen any of the [REC] films, and so, I don’t know whether or not that will actually hold, but I found myself legitimately entertained by the film, which isn’t something that I can say about a lot of other films like it. I think it’s interesting because I almost watched this film a few weeks earlier than what I did. I watched found. which turned out to be a very enjoyable movie in its own right and we had intentions on watching The Den but ended up watching SX_Tape instead. Both are found-footage films, but I definitely wish I would have watched The Den and ended the night off with two worthwhile horror films.
The Den (other-wise known in Russia as смерть в сети, Death Online) is a 2013 found footage horror film by Zachary Donohue in his feature film directorial debut. I think that what brought me into this film more than anything else is the actress Melanie Papalia. I wasn’t familiar with her before this film, but I found her to actually be likable. In horror films, it’s very common for the female protagonist to come across as likeable, or at least be written in such a way that beckons such a perspective from the viewer. They’re usually attractive and pure, and respectful, and all that, but a lot of the time though, the character doesn’t ends up inorganic or not noteworthy in their role, but I found her to have a certain likability about her that made her a strong heroine to be dealt the conflict. In the film, the story focuses on a young social media studies grad student named Elizabeth that received a grant to continue studying the online activities of random people for her graduate thesis. The website that she uses is called “The Den,” and operates a lot like a chat-roulette webcam website.
We’ve definitely seen this concept done before, but I’ll go ahead and argue that I don’t believe I’ve witnessed it done well. Films like Cam2Cam or Stay Alive or Hellraiser: Hellworld, there’s been a lot of films that have tried to implement the internet as a horror-element, but none of them have really led to terrific results. For what it’s worth, anybody that experienced with the internet or at least has read up on some of the things that have happened know it could be a scary place. For the average person, it won’t be, but if the wrong person latches onto you than a lot of bad can come from it. In this film, Elizabeth spends a lot of time trying to find interesting characters for her work, but after days and days of having nothing to show for it all, she starts becoming discouraged, until she uncovers a video that appears to be a gruesome murder that is. She digs deeper into it and eventually finds information that puts herself and her friends and family in-danger.
Online chat-rooms have a lot of potential opportunities at being frightening, or at the very least being entertaining, The Den realizes this and also has makes completely certain to have some fun with it. Some of it might have been a little silly, but the film itself plays it straight throughout and tries at really offering a harrowing albeit extremely paranoia vision about the dangerous lurking the internet. If there’s anything annoying about the whole film, it’s how the other characters respond to Elizabeth’s pleas. Cyber harassment isn’t uncommon, and so, you’d think that individuals, especially her friends, would treat it as a much larger deal than what they did. I enjoyed the found-footage aspect of it, and I feel like it was, unlike a lot of other found-footage horrors, one of the few options for telling this movie well.
The end of the film is memorable and I can’t really say whether or not I liked it or disliked it. The film didn’t really end on anything that hints at a sequel, but it leaves me wanting to know more. The strange thing is, I didn’t feel as interested with the actual horror aspects as I did while I was watching Elizabeth talk with random people on the internet. I almost wish that the film was just about how Elizabeth did her thesis and went on with her life, but that likely wouldn’t have made for as exciting of a story. Joking aside, the horror elements are actually considerably well done and even if they didn’t completely do everything that I’d like to see from what horror and the internetcan do with one another, I think that it’s likely the most encouraging that I’ve seen with it.
The Den isn’t a terrific film by any definition, but I think it’s an average horror film propelled by a likeable female lead as well as entertaining moments scattered throughout it. There are flaws in the storyline, but I found myself left wanting more, and if that leads to The Den 2, which I doubt, I’d be well-interested.
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