'Open Windows' stars Elijah Wood as Nick, the nerdy but affable web master of a site dedicated to fictional superstar actress Jill Goddard (former porn star-turned-actress Sasha Grey). When Jill cancels the dinner Nick won with her in a contest, a mysterious hacker named Chord allows Nick the opportunity to spy on Jill and play a little game that quickly turns dangerous and veers into an evening filled with myriad plot twists in this thriller from festival favorite director Nacho Vigalondo. Unfortunately, the film is a bit too ambitious and convoluted from the director, who's been admired for his deft sci-fi indies in the past.
Vigalondo, who previously helmed film fest favorites like 'Timecrimes' and 'Extraterrestrial,' returns to the fest circuit with 'Open Windows,' which is also co-produced by Wood. Wood's Nick is a relatable enough guy, obsessed with a beautiful movie star to whom he's dedicated an entire fan site, filled with videos, photos and links to articles and interviews for similar adoring fans. Having won a contest to have dinner with the star, Nick is thrilled, but Jill, jaded by her time in the spotlight, cancels without warning, and that's when the mysterious and elusive Chord enters the picture, hacking his way onto Nick's laptop and granting him unlimited access to Jill's phone, computer and life. What would be a blissful but taboo opportunity for any fan quickly devolves into a nasty game, with Nick as the pawn in Chord's own disturbing plans.
The film is an interesting concept, and Vigalondo utilizes several technology-heavy techniques, primarily using Nick's laptop and cameras connected to computers, phones and surveillance equipment to form the narrative structure of the film. Unfortunately, the aesthetic is a bit overburdened and busy with so many cameras and, um, windows on the screen at once. When the additional elements of a third party French hacker team are introduced, along with twists involving covert identities and modern revolutionaries, the plot is further convoluted and the themes are muddied. Are we watching a film that comments on the blurred lines between the public and private personas of celebrity and the slippery slope of fan obsession, or one that serves as commentary on modern technology? Whatever comment it is making on the latter is unclear.
Or is it simply a twisty, ambitious thriller that relies too heavily on simple gimmicks? Somewhere along the way, the intention was lost in translation and became as convoluted as the end result. That's not to say there are not redeeming qualities to 'Open Windows.' Wood and Grey are solid, especially the latter, who gives a meta-textual performance that, at times, delightfully (and thankfully, almost as if to clarify earlier concerns) comments on the demands of an actress. Jill uses the confusion between her public and private personas to her advantage, and it's wonderful to watch an actress playing an actress who turns a performance on and off at will. Grey adds much-needed depth of character to a film that's otherwise lacking in that department.
Vigalondo may not impress with his busy laptop screen layout and the constant switching between this and overwhelming POV camerawork, but his knack for other visual aesthetic choices, as praised in his previous work, still remains. The cool layout of a hacker's lair and interesting virtual effects, as well as some fictional technological choices, posit a quasi-futuristic world not far off from our own. It's nowhere near the level of Spike Jonze's 'Her' in terms of tangible sci-fi invention, but Vigalondo definitely has vision -- even if some of those visions don't necessarily cohere. A few of the effects, like a climactic scene involving a car trunk, read as unfinished effects and don't quite gel with the rest of his vision.
While 'Open Windows' definitely isn't the simplistic thriller one might assume, it is unfortunately mired down with too many ideas, details and plot twists. Vigalondo is a talented filmmaker, but this thriller is perhaps a little too ambitious with an execution that doesn't convey all of his big ideas in a way that's cohesive and consistent. The film veers all over the place from start to finish, only finding its way back to any semblance of a thesis statement or theme near the end, just when you start to wonder if it ever had one at all.