Chatroom -- Film Review

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CANNES -- A cinematic visualization of how interactions take place in Internet chatrooms may sound like a brilliant concept at co-financing pitches. In practice, Hideo Nakata's psychological thriller "Chatroom," about teenagers who fall prey to the dangerous mind games played online, just shows people nattering on in cheaply decorated rooms. Claustrophobic, inert and stagelike (it was adapted from the screenwriter's own play) it is like a cyber age version of Sartre's "Hui clos" without the intellectual discourse.

"Chatroom" marks the Japanese director's first work with British finance, production and cast. It was pre-sold to almost a dozen worldwide territories, including Pathe. Clumsily directed, with a simplistic plotline and as much suspense and atmosphere as "Scooby Doo," aficionados of Nakata's other better works and Asian horror films will not be impressed. Internet and computer-savvy youngsters will probably lose concentration and fiddle with their iPhones halfway through the film.

William, Eva, Emily, Mo and Jimmy become friends in the chatroom "Chelsea Teenagers." Though they have different backgrounds and personalities, it transpires that all suffer from some family trauma or individual insecurity. William (Aaron Johnson), who has been under therapy and loves visiting sites showing live suicides, gets a kick from stabbing people's Achilles' heels. He singles out the emotionally fragile Jimmy (Matthew Beard) for a sick game. The problem is that most characters' angst and troubles are so generic, of the "my parents don't understand me" variety.

The subjects of dangerous cult websites and teen group suicides, notably Shion Sono's "Suicide Club" and the "Whispering Corridors" series, have been a subgenre of horror-thrillers from Japan and Korea for almost a decade. "Chatroom" therefore feels dated, in spite of efforts to beef up the story with "Wallace & Gromit"-like claymation sequences and contrasting the online and real worlds by making the former swim in loud, vibrant colors and de-saturating the latter.

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Apart from the first 40 minutes, when the introduction of the five characters holds some interest, the screenplay only has one plotline -- William's evil intentions on Jimmy -- and it keeps hammering on it till the unspectacular end. The air of mystery and conspiratorial evil that pervades J-horror is just missing here.

There also is little sense of cinematic movement -- the protagonists are either sitting down in front of their notebooks in the real world, or sitting in chairs talking in the virtual one, or running up and down a corridor peopled with weirdoes. The tension ascends in a chase scene through London's streets at the end but even then, it feels as tame and juvenile as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys joining hands in a rescue mission.

Neither the acting of the young cast nor the technical credits are of special note. No particular flavor of London comes over either.

Venue: Festival de Cannes -- Un Certain Regard
Production companies: Film4, U.K. Film Council, WestEnd Films present a Ruby Films production
Cast: Aaron Johnson, Imogen Poots, Matthew Beard, Hannah Murray, Daniel Kaluuya.
Director: Hideo Nakata
Screenwriter and based on the play by: Enda Walsh
Producers: Laura Hastings-Smith, Alison Owen, Paul Trijbits
Director of photography: Benoit Delhomme
Production designer: John Henson
Music: Kenji Kawai
Costume designer: Julian Day
Editor: Masahiro Hirakubo
Sales: WestEnd Films
No rating, 97 minutes
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