The Den: Horror Movies are Killing It

Horror movies are the most innovative genre of fiction film. Production costs of these films can remain pretty low, emotion, tension, fake blood, and terror aren't exactly costly, but it takes a real master to piece together these hugely important elements into something worthy enough to be called cinema. The director has to be able to tell a story (of sorts) through sheer craft. They have to build suspense. They have to push the limits of every tool they have. After watching The Den a few weeks ago I continue to stand by the intensely progressive filmmaking of such a transgressive genre!

The Den was released in theaters and on VOD at the same time, another relatively new experiment happening in the post-theater world. It even had a spot on price point online too, $7, more than a rental but less than a multiplex ticket. I love horror movies and don't live in a city where I can just hop outside and see a brand spanking new slasher movie any time I please, why wouldn't I watch this? I watched The Den on my computer. In the dark. At night. It scared the sh*t out of me. Like really, really did. To the point where I was pausing it because, I dunno, maybe I need some water? Maybe I should make sure the door is locked? Maybe there are lots of things that need to be done at 11pm BESIDES watch this freakishly tense film alone in my bed? And the reason it scared me was completely unexpected and utterly groundbreaking: it used this new way of watching movies against me.

The Den was one of the first films I have ever seen that was designed to be watched at home on your laptop in bed, just as I was doing. Yes, things like Paranormal Activity 4 and a handful of short films I've seen recently fall into this category too but The Den has done it best as nearly all of the deathly horror of the film takes place on the protagonist's computer screen. Elizabeth, the film's hot protagonist (and true to Horror form we see her in her underwear for no reason at least once) is writing a thesis on internet chatting culture specifically on the site"The Den," sort of like Chatroulett's fake bastard cousin. Yeah, this is far fetched, but whatever. As she begins her "study" she comes across something that might be a murder and then her whole real world begins to collapse in on itself as it merges with that of an alternate underbelly of internet existence brought on by a torturing hacker, or is it hackers?

Images of Elizabeth's computer screen flashed across my desktop (seriously even making me wonder why my screen was frozen at one point, yes I am lame old), log-ins, e-mails, chats, once the camera even a shaky cell phone-ish first person shot that made me feel like an awful intruder in someone's home as they fold laundry and watched bad tv. The film used the new way we are watching films as a resourceful, mood setting tool that raised tons of questions both on & offscreen. Who is in control (hi NSA!)? Who is it that is taking over the computer screen, MY computer screen? Where am I in terms of the film? Am I now implicated in her plight, paying to see her running around to her possible death? Or am I like the sick surveillance cameras in Elizabeth's room, a creepy voyeur watching her game of cat & mouse? Or am I Elizabeth- ohmygod is someone watching me on my computer ready to pounce at any moment for pure entertainment alone? EEPS! Even if the acting is spotty & the plot full of holes, the questions brought up by The Den elevate it into something else besides a B Movie.

Once again a horror movie has shocked me by looking at a new facet of cinema, playing with the expectations of the medium, and producing something unprecedented... and scary as hell. Like other boundary pushing horror films (Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity) and directors for whom this gory genre acts as a portfolio/springboard (Raimi, Peter Jackson), The Den presents a new vision of the state of film and technology. I am not telling you the ending of the movie, this is one that I recommend you watch on your computer. With the light off. Or on. Full disclosure: I turned the lights on.



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.