Co-written and directed by first-time director Zachary Donohue, The Den is a film I went into expecting very little, if I’m honest, just thinking I’d get a mediocre spin on the found-footage genre with not-so-good acting to boot. I was mistaken.
The Den has an intriguing premise. We meet Elizabeth, a young woman who is studying the habits of people on a chat-program called “The Den” (not unlike popular chat sites like Chat-roulette or Omegle) and she is given a grant to do the study. Staying in her apartment and recording herself talking with various people 24/7, Elizabeth witnesses a girl getting her throat cut and everything, from that moment, goes haywire. Her life is turned upside down as someone, somewhere, has found a way to hack her system, use her camera and email, and track her, her family and her friends.
A creepy spin on the tired found-footage thing, The Den surprised me foremost by how realistic the writing was, the dialogue between characters and the words they used when typing to one another online, or chatting through the chat-app, felt authentic. The performances too, especially from the lead actress who played Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia: Smiley, Frankie & Alice), were good and didn’t feel corny or poorly realised at any point. The other main cast members such as David Schlachtenhaufen as Damien and Adam Shapiro as Max do a good job also, providing some interesting relationships with Elizabeth.
I found that the way that writers Donohue and Lauren Thompson managed to create a modern day horror mythology in an effective way to be refreshing. The scenes in which Elizabeth’s computer switches on while she is sleeping as someone controls it and watches her are very tense scenes, and the pacing of the film, I felt, was done really well. While the villain isn’t necessarily multi-layered, it isn’t something that is needed. When the reveal is made towards the end of the film, as to who is responsible, it is an interesting development, and one I would have liked to have seen more of. It does, in some ways, become somewhat clichéd towards the end, but it isn’t a bad final act, I just had a lot more fun with the lead-up.
An atmosphere that ups the tension throughout and a well penned script took this film a few steps higher than I ever expected it would be. While it isn’t perfect and I found myself at times wondering why certain characters weren’t more aware of what was happening around them, or that they may be in some sort of danger, I still enjoyed the film and, personally feel like it is one of the better found footage style movies in recent memory. Dark, intense and with a really good modern spin on the horror genre, The Den is one to watch, just make sure you’re not on your laptop while you watch it.