Studio: RAM Releasing
Director: Bobby Boermans
Writer: Robert A. Jansen
Producer: Edvard van’t Wout, Kess Abrahams, Robin de Levita
Stars: Hannah Hoekstra, Robert de Hoog, Isis Cabolet, Harry van Rijthoven, Mark van Eeuwen, Jeroen Spitzenberger, Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen
A sentient smartphone app terrorizes a young college student by taking control of the technology around her with deadly results.
When it comes to seeing a movie in a theater, the only thing more annoying than the sounds of cellophane candy wrappers and popcorn being masticated is an inconsiderate cellphone drawing attention to its bright glow or noisy ringtone. Billed as the first second-screen film, Dutch thriller “App” takes a unique approach to working around this pervasive 21st century distraction by turning the phone into a featured component of the movie. After downloading an app named “Iris” and synching it to the film’s audio, the viewer’s own phone provides a second layer to enhance the viewing experience with randomly delivered clips, images, and additional content.
“Iris” delivers something quite a bit different to perky and plucky college student Anna, however. After a hazy night of partying with friends and flirting with a love interest, Anna wakes the next morning with a serious hangover and a mysterious piece of software installed on her smartphone. The film’s version of “Iris” is a sentient piece of programming bent on destroying everyone in Anna’s life by uploading compromising videos, manipulating machinery, and even orchestrating impossible collisions with oncoming traffic.
Combining bits of “Pulse” and “Maximum Overdrive” while fueled by Y2K paranoia about the impossibility of escaping modern technology, Robert A. Jansen’s streamlined script is light on depth, but heavy on slick PG-13 appeal. Director Bobby Boermans and his crew craft a big budget look that places “App” in league with similar teen-targeted fare more focused on an attractive cast and jump from your seat jolts than truly meaty moments.
The skeleton story is aided immensely by lead actress Hannah Hoekstra. She has an easy screen presence of almost effortless charisma that complements her equally charming co-stars without overshadowing them. Indeed, the entire film is so well-produced that looking the other way when it comes to the plot’s paper-thin plausibility is much easier to do.
As a standalone movie rated on its own, “App” is only mediocre, and would likely net somewhere in the neighborhood of two and a half out of five stars. Set aside the second screen novelty and it is impossible to imagine anyone remembering the film for its content in years to come.
Of course, the real draw is the unique use of the accompanying companion app in the palm of the viewer’s hand. The real world “Iris” inarguably makes “App” a more entertaining experience, although the lasting satisfaction has a hollowness that makes it a bit of a letdown in spite of the inventiveness.
I counted two-dozen total uses of the second screen during the movie, with all but a scant few lasting no more than a few seconds. These inessential asides range in value from things like extended exposition shots to alternate camera angles. For instance, while Anna fiddles with her phone on the big screen, the little one shows the camera phone’s point of view as it looks back at Anna.
Like the movie itself, it is a largely disposable endeavor, although two uses in particular lend a modest boost. One is a text message exchange between two characters that adds to the backstory while the other is a nefarious countdown timer foreshadowing the climax in a devilish way. See the movie without knowing about the smartphone feature, or just flat out refuse to play along, and you would never know you were missing any extra content. But as the first film to employ such a concept, trying it out firsthand as a curious film fan is an irresistible temptation.
The total package is mostly underwhelming, as the thriller is too tame and the second-screen enhancement too passive to really wrap up the audience in the fiction. However, I confess that the very concept of the film’s immersive premise had me grinning delightedly in anticipation of finally seeing how it was all put together. Even if the payoff lacks punch, credit is deservedly due to the filmmakers for delivering something out of the ordinary. The true intention of “App” is to reinvigorate the moviegoing experience with a playful dose of creative fun. And in that regard, “App” succeeds.
Review Score: 65