By Ryan McPherson
Perhaps the greatest fear of the 21st century is virtual privacy. Credit cards, text messages, emails, and social media are all at risk — and that’s just from hackers. What if the government’s ability to surveil the internet wasn’t strictly for the purpose of fighting crime and terrorism? Imagine government agents sitting in small offices watching your every move. All of those things you do on the internet you wouldn’t want your mother to know about — they’ve already seen. These thoughts, once reserved for conspiracy theorists and science fiction, have seeped into the consciousness of the general public and Matthew Solomon’s ‘Chatter’, isn’t going to provide you with any comfort.
A Homeland Security Agent (Tohoru Masamune) is put on a special internet surveillance assignment, when he stumbles upon a private conversation between a couple temporarily separated due employment obligations. When their conversations start to heat up, the agent can’t get enough and has to see where things are headed. What starts as a case of voyeurism even Alfred Hitchcock would label extreme, presents the agent with something much worse.
The subjects of the agents fascination are married couple, David and Laura Cole. David (Brady Smith) who’s following work, finds a new apartment for himself and Laura (Sarena Khan), and begins to settle in, while impatiently waiting her arrival. Left with no other option than video conversations over the internet, David and Laura unknowingly provide the agent with everything from the most mundane to the most private moments of their life. When strange occurrences begin to lead David and Laura to believe their new apartment is haunted, the agent finds himself stuck choosing between helping the couple or putting his job in jeopardy.
What Solomon has created, a film showing streams from multiple computer screens at the same time and presenting to the viewer in such a way, is not groundbreaking or unique. However, the fact he does it well just might be.
It’s not a technique I normally find appealing. It creates greater distance between the viewer and the action. What you’re essentially viewing is someone pointing a video camera at a Skype conversation. The viewer gets a video of a video. It’s not often I can get emotionally invested when extra layers are put between the characters and the viewer. It’s a testament to the likability of Smith and Khan and their portrayals of the couple; as well as the script Solomon, Joshua Carl Allen, and Jeremy Fox put together for them.
Odds are, you aren’t going to be overly scared by ‘Chatter’. I’m still trying to determine whether it’s a product of the layering or the fact it’s more of a thriller than it is a typical haunted house film. The suspense is there however. You’re definitely going to jump out of your seat a couple of times and Solomon earns it — no cheap tricks here. It’s also easy to surmise Solomon is working less towards standard horror fare and instead attempting to provide a “Big Brother” warning for the new millennium. Everyone presented to us is complacent in the relationship they have with technology versus their relationships in the real world, and for that very reason, they face grave consequences.
Comparisons have been drawn to ‘Paranormal Activity’, in that ‘Chatter’ is the “tech savvy” equivalent. Unlike ‘Paranormal Activity’ however, this film is both figuratively and literally layered with questions about our society and culture walking hand-in-hand with the things that go bump in the night. There’s enough provided to the viewer to keep you thinking long after the goosebumps have subsided. And although it might not garner the same widespread appeal Paranormal Activity did, if Chatter is the last of the “computer screen” films I see, I’d be comfortable assuming I’d seen one of, if not the best the genre had to offer.