Studio: Sony Pictures
Director: Branden Kramer
Writer: Branden Kramer
Producer: David Bausch, Jamie Zelermyer, Ben Browning
Stars: Ashley Benson, Matt McGorry, Rebecca Naomi Jones, Jon Bass, Karl Glusman, John Anderson
A stalker pursues a graduate student by using the young woman’s computer, phone, and electronic devices to secretly monitor her daily life.
Passing time in between screenings at the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival, I was texting my girlfriend when she inquired about “Ratter.” “Heard anything good about the movie you’re seeing later?” she asked. I replied that “Ratter” had received a buzzing honeycomb’s worth of positive praise coming out of Slamdance before jokingly adding, “it’s a webcam killer thriller, so it can’t be any worse than ‘Unfriended.’” Turns out it can, and now I have to write this review in between spitting out mouthfuls of black feathers.
Looking through the ten externally linked reviews on IMDB at the time of this writing, accolades for “Ratter” are overwhelming, with the lowest critic score being just a six out of ten. One review dubs “Ratter” as “groundbreaking.” Another calls it “very original.” Still another praises the film’s “fresh concept.” I suppose all of that could be true, provided of course that you ignore the aforementioned “Unfriended” (review here), in addition to “Alone with Her,” “Hangman” (review here), “Megan Is Missing” (review here), “The Den” (review here), “The Poughkeepsie Tapes,” “388 Arletta Avenue,” “Look,” “Open Windows” (review here), or you know, any of the countless other “found footage” thrillers with a cyberstalking or secret surveillance element.
Living alone in Brooklyn, graduate student Emma Taylor has her average life upturned when an unknown stalker hacks her personal technology and begins clandestinely monitoring her regular routine. Normally I would add a second sentence to the summary, but that first one covers everything there is to the plotline.
As Emma, star Ashley Benson, looking alarmingly like Scarlett Johansson’s doppelganger, is easy to watch, except she isn’t plugged into a story worth the effort of doing so. “Ratter” was originally conceived in 2012 as a seven-minute short titled “Webcam,” where its one-note concept made sense in an abbreviated format. As a feature-length film, the tunnel vision focus of a single white female being observed by unseen eyes cannot sustain 80 minutes of intrigue.
A significant portion of the runtime consists of Emma riding the subway, buying cheese, visiting a hot dog vendor, painting her toenails, shaving her legs (twice), and lip synching with a broom. Later, Emma masturbates and has a sex session with her new beau, but otherwise the bulk of the privacy being invaded isn’t very secretive or intimately revealing. Being a passive voyeur along for this ride doesn’t come with a sickly feeling of having eyes pointed somewhere they should not be.
Mundane introductions are a staple of “found footage” first acts, but “Ratter” keeps it going until the third. At least when something like “The Blair Witch Project” (review here) opens on talking head townspeople, a story accompanies bland exposition. This is simply uneventful action occurring without context. “Ratter” is trying to establish a relatable tether about how everyday activities hold potential for terror, yet the characterizations are too hollow to ring with any identifiable personality.
Emma’s stalker isn’t even a motivated figure. Only one suspect fits the bill as a potential culprit, though the script refuses to reel in the red herring in any meaningful way. It is confusing that Emma commiserates with her BFF Nicole about unwanted communications from her ex-boyfriend Alex, has a verbal blowup with the boy over the phone, and yet when police question Emma about who might want to harass her and her new boyfriend, she claims to have “no idea.” This is just a few movie minutes after a phone fight with Alex over their breakup and new guy Michael receiving a jealous threat to back off. “Ratter” seemingly wants its stalker to be a faceless force of evil a la The Shape in “Halloween” (review here), but he isn’t featured enough as something more substantial than an occasional shadow to develop into a truly terrifying presence.
Some of the (in)action is intentionally recorded by Emma. The rest presumably comes from her tormenter hacking devices and filming Emma surreptitiously. Both cases introduce classic questions regarding “found footage” conceits, including why is this being recorded and how is each camera justified? Who brings a laptop into the bathroom and points a webcam at the shower while bathing other than characters in “found footage” films? When the stalker prowls Emma’s apartment, who is cutting back and forth between multiple angles and footage options? Are we watching a video that Emma’s tormenter compiled later of his stalking experience? If so, why did he edit it to be so boring?
Aside from several cheap shot audio bursts of pounding on doors, “Ratter” is too dull for tension to mount anywhere. “Ratter” marks the first theatergoing experience where I was somewhat thankful for the patron behind me kicking my chair, because it was the main thing keeping me from dozing off completely.
Any fearmongering suggestion that the film is so frightening that the first thing anyone seeing it would be inspired to do is change his/her passwords is hogwash. “Ratter” is a failed attempt at a cautionary tale about how our modern technological conveniences are supposedly just tools for madmen to torture us. That too, is another overblown notion for the rubbish pile.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 35