Open Windows: SXSW Review

Open Windows SXSW Still - H 2014

Open Windows SXSW Still - H 2014

High-tech riff on "Rear Window" will play best with fanboys

Elijah Wood plays a website operator manipulated by a master hacker into tormenting Sasha Grey

AUSTIN -- Cult-beloved Spanish auteur Nacho Vigalondo returns to the town that may house more of his English-language fans than any other for Open Windows. Revolving in part around the Alamo Drafthouse's Fantastic Fest, which premiered his 2007 Timecrimes, the film's action moves throughout Austin but is viewed completely through windows on a laptop. The gimmick plays well from a technical standpoint, but the story requires a suspension of disbelief that only genre diehards are likely to give. Despite the name-recognition value of leads Elijah Wood and porn star Sasha Grey, the film is unlikely to have much of a theatrical life beyond simpatico festivals and specialty bookings.

In 2011's smart and funny Extraterrestrial, Vigalondo managed to tell an alien-invasion story without ever showing the invaders. Where that story cared only about the everyday human concerns of those whose city has been invaded, this one is either uninterested or unable to turn its protagonists into credible people. Wood's Nick Chambers is a milksop who seemingly lives only to collect photos of his favorite actress, Grey's Jill Goddard. Goddard is a skin-deep star currently annoyed at a sex-tape scandal that appears to have been invented to stir interest in her new film.

PHOTOS: The Scene at SXSW 2014

Nick is in Austin to interview Goddard for that film, having won a promotional contest. But on the eve of the interview, he gets disturbing news from a stranger, Chord (Neil Maskell), who calls him online: The petulant star has cancelled the interview. Chord is full of ideas about how to pay back this slight, and while Nick is not revenge-minded, he soon finds himself spying on Goddard, hacking her phone and tracking her movements -- all via windows on his computer, using links Chord helpfully sends.

It's soon clear that Chord has his own agenda, hoping to either torment or manipulate the actress, and any viewer who's not fully enthralled with the plot may wonder why the computer mastermind needs this reluctant middleman. Chord, as it turns out, has unlimited access to both her digital and physical realms, so why get the kid involved? Seemingly, the answer is that the script needs someone who can try to foil his plans.

In that, Nick gets help from other mysterious quarters: A sometimes entertaining trio of French hackers called Triops, who believe him to be a hacker/activist named Nevada, act as his tech miracle workers, dipping into police databases and the like almost more quickly than the request can be made. It's pretty silly stuff, leaving the film to rely on more conventional car chases, woman-in-peril scenarios and mistaken identity to keep things interesting -- all seen on that laptop via security cameras and the like. Grey's character tries once or twice to take charge of her situation, but the actress herself isn't as resourceful. A Z-movie queen like Jill Goddard hardly seems to deserve the computer- and fire-power this enthusiastic but flimsy picture throws her way.


Production Companies: Apaches Entertainment, Atresmedia Cin, SpectreVision

Cast: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell, Adam Quintero, Ivan Gonzalez, Jaime Olias, Rachel Arieff, Jake Klamburg

Director-Screenwriter: Nacho Vigalondo

Producers: Belen Atienza, Mercedes Gamero, Enrique Lopez Lavigne

Executive producers: Garrett Basch, Pau Brunet, Ricardo Garcia Arrojo, Nahikari Ipina, Daniel Noah, Josh C. Waller, Elijah Wood

Director of photography: Jon D. Dominguez

Production designers: Javier Alvarino, Soledad Sesena

Music: Jorge Magaz

Costume designer: Cristina Sopena

Editor: Bernat Vilaplana

No rating, 100 minutes