FBI agent Jennifer Marsh (Lane) specialises in policing cyberspace. When a new website, killwithme.com, appears providing a live video feed to hideous tortures, Marsh begins a hunt for the tech savvy lunatic behind the horrific killings...
Director Gregory Hoblit, who usually plies his trade in more legal-based potboilers like Primal Fear and Fracture, goes all high-tech with this mildly engaging thriller. While it is a step up from FeardotCom and Perfect Stranger, it still falls into the trap that snares most internet-related pictures.
Firstly, not even Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler can make hardboiled poetry out of phrases like “IP address” and “collective servers”. Perhaps more importantly, it is difficult to make the practice of internet consumption look anything but inert, passive and geeky - how to be intimidated by a killer whose modus operandi is basically ctrl-alt-delete. In this respect, Untraceable tries hard not to pull its punches. From the opening, where the internet predator tortures a cute puddy cat, you know this cyber-psycho means business. But, as the body count escalates, so the victims are offed in more creative and ludicrous ways: death by a serum that speeds up haemophilia, death by heat lamps, death by sulphuric acid etc.
However satisfyingly 18 cert. things get, the movie still gets bogged down in formula. Lane’s cop, Jennifer Marsh, is a forgetful mom and widow, caught in the over-familiar pull between catching crooks and a neglected family life. She is also at odds with her superior, shares comic relief with a co-cybercop (a likeable Colin Hanks) and has a hint of attraction to regular cop Eric Box (a blank Billy Burke).
Then there are the rote thriller elements: red herrings, poking around dingy basements, and the old reliable killer-coming-at-what-the-heroine-loves gambit. To his credit, Hoblit coats the first half in a grey, chilly patina that gives it a sense of foreboding without straying into Seven-esque extremes, but he can’t make the second half as visually interesting.
Around the edges is some point-making about the culpability of the media in net torture porn. In a neat plot twist, the more people that log onto killwithme.com, the quicker the victim dies - but Hoblit doesn’t connect the dots to explore his theme fully or have that Hitchcockian skill to make the audience complicit in the crime. Still, it’s a strong idea in a film sadly bereft of them.
A competent suspenser, helped by the always-dependable Diane Lane, but it suffers by following the modern thriller playbook to the letter.