Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Writer: Nacho Vigalondo
Producer: Enrique Lopez Lavigne, Belen Atienza, Mikel Lejarza, Mercedes Gamero
Stars: Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey, Neil Maskell, Adam Quintero, Ivan Gonzalez, Jaime Olias, Jake S. Klamburg, Dani Perez Prada, Rachel Arieff
A celebrity’s #1 fan is unwittingly lured into becoming a key player in an elaborate plot to kidnap and blackmail the star.
Whether it is the actor himself, his agent, or some combination of the two, whoever is responsible for selecting Elijah Wood’s post-“Lord of the Rings” roles should never deviate from this magic formula of pairing him with creatively bold French and Spanish filmmakers. Should Wood’s name never grace a Hollywood blockbuster marquee ever again, that would be perfectly fine as long as he continues on his path of more artistically inventive projects instead.
After following the superb “Maniac” remake (review here) with the equally superb “Grand Piano” (review here), Wood completes his top-notch thriller trifecta with a star turn in writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s “Open Windows.” While Wood carves out his niche as a modern day Cary Grant by inhabiting the accidental hero persona, Vigalondo sets himself up as a contemporary heir apparent to Sir Alfred Hitchcock. And it is not just in the way Vigalondo employs the master’s tools of suspense craftsmanship, but also in how he emulates classic Hitchcockian tropes like mistaken identity and refrigerator logic to create a bullet train ride through imaginative insanity.
Elijah Wood’s boyishly creaseless face and saucer-eyed wonderment aptly complement the tightly buttoned plaid shirt giving celebrity superfan Nick Chambers all of the nerdy qualities necessary to be a sympathetic patsy. Nick is in Austin, Texas for Fantastic Fest to cash in on a dinner date won through a contest to meet idolized actress Jill Goddard. Except an unexpected message from a mystery Englishman named Chord puts the kibosh on Nick’s fantasy-turned-reality with the surprise announcement that Jill has cancelled.
As an odd consolation, apparent tech wizard Chord taps into surveillance feeds at the convention as well as Jill’s cell phone and gives curious Nick an inside peek at the starlet’s life that TMZ would drool over. Before Nick can second guess the morality of the unsolicited privacy invasion, Chord leads the seemingly naïve Everyman along a breadcrumb trail of cameras, computers, and phone taps until Nick reaches a point of no return in what turns out to be Chord’s twisted scheme to blackmail the popular superstar.
Sasha Grey is an on-the-money casting choice for Jill. Even when playing herself on “Entourage,” Grey’s transition to mainstream roles has experienced growing pains, usually in occasionally stilted line delivery. Here, Grey’s smoldering sultriness and purposefully distracted personality work to her advantage as an aloof celebutante fed up with the limelight. They are the right choices for the character, and for the actress, who continues to build off her memorable performance in “Would You Rather” (review here).
“Open Windows” plays out over 90 minutes of real time in “found footage” style on a laptop computer screen. Action breathlessly flitters back and forth between desktop windows featuring Jill’s compromised position, the ever-escalating physical danger of Nick’s dilemma, somewhat comical asides of a network hacking trio, and assorted setpieces involving police chases, explosions, and enough techno-gadgetry story devices to spin the heads of both Bill Gates and James Bond.
As both plots, Chord’s in-world scheme and Vigalondo’s scripted one, grow increasingly complicated, “Open Windows” takes viewers through a ludicrously elaborate premise with little grounding in believability. Like “Grand Piano” before it, that is precisely what makes the film a dementedly enjoyable reminder of how cinema can engage as escapist entertainment.
With virtually everyone on the roster ultimately exposed as someone other than original introductions would suggest, audiences might find themselves struggling for an embedded root to ground themselves to. That potential lack of relatable reality can be overlooked, however. The laptop format presents “Open Windows” as a voyeuristic experience from the get-go, casting the viewer as exactly that, a viewer, and dispensing with any overwhelming need to be fully immersive.
The fearlessness in Vigalondo’s labyrinthine story and in his first-person format for telling it risks losing viewers who are forgivably unwilling to suspend disbelief in a movie that never quite loses control, but does rattle on the rails. Although “Open Windows” only puts on the appearance of being more wildly reckless than it really is.
Part of the brilliant misdirection Vigalondo puts onstage is that his script is nowhere near as convoluted as it appears to be. “Open Windows” is a less confined narrative and more expansive production than “Timecrimes” (review here), but it is still focused primarily on just three characters. With so many plates of suspense, tension, and action spinning at once, the underlying complexity is almost inferred as an illusion.
Smart money suggests that “Open Windows” might have difficulty holding up on a second viewing. The bursting synapses delighting audiences’ brains come from the unending twists and turns making the movie an immensely satisfying thriller. Going around that track once more armed with all of the reveals might shine too bright a light on the warts. But that would be missing the point.
The technology is impossible and the deus ex machinas are plentiful, yet the surreal unreality of it all never becomes a real distraction. This is simply because “Open Windows” is more about the journey through that aforementioned imaginative insanity than it is about justifying its science or plausibility. And that is one strange trip that is definitely worth taking, no matter how much logic has to be left behind.
Review Score: 85