The Cinefessions crew loves sharing their opinions on films, but not every movie can get the attention it deserves with a full review. Enter the Cinefessions’ Capsule Reviews. These capsule reviews cover five of the most important aspects of a film, which allow the crew to deliver their opinions on any movie clearly, decisively, and with brevity. These are not our full thoughts on any film, just a highlighting of the major pros and/or cons.
Story & Script
Elizabeth is trying to get a grant to do a study on users of a video calling website known as The Den (it’s essentially Chatroulette). Once she receives the grant, she plans on spending 24-hours of her day on the website, interacting with strangers and meeting new people. She comes across this one user a couple of times, but their webcam seems to be broken. Finally, the webcam pops up, and Elizabeth sees a grisly murder of a young girl. She contacts the police, but they brush it off, believing it to be an internet hoax. Once her friends start disappearing, and someone gets access to her computer, is when things start to spiral out of control for her. Unlike another similar film, The Den stays as realistic as possible, and is much better off for it. I bought in to the story, cared about the characters enough, and needed to see how this one ended, which is the mark of a solid script.
As with any found footage film, the acting can make or break the movie. Fortunately, The Den has a cast of solid actors, and the lead, Elizabeth, played by the beautiful Melanie Papalia, puts on a convincing performance from in front of her MacBook. The supporting cast does an excellent job as well, with no weak links to point out.
Like Unfriended, The Den is a found footage horror film that only allows the viewer to see what Elizabeth is seeing, mainly through her desktop, but also through iPhones and GoPro-like cameras. Zachary Donohue uses this idea two years ahead of Unfriended, though, and does a better job with it overall. Instead of getting a lot of static, the viewer actually gets to see all the atrocities going on in the video windows. He is also able to justify the continued recording pretty easily, and I never doubted why Elizabeth was recording what was happening (or why she happened to be recording, if that makes sense).
Where Unfriended went with the supernatural route, The Den stays rooted in reality, and almost feels like a slasher film. The best part about the film, though, is that it is incredibly tense. I always jump when the camera goes into a first person perspective, but that shouldn’t discount its effectiveness, and it’s done really well in The Den. The tensions starts in the opening scene, and does a nice job of maintaining throughout the majority of the film.
I definitely could see myself giving The Den another viewing in the future. I love found footage horror when it’s done well, and The Den is much much better than most.
The Den is what I wanted Unfriended to be. It may not be fair to compare these two so much, but I happened to watch both of them in a week span, and they’re both films that give the viewer the perspective of the main character’s desktop, so I don’t care about fair. I loved that The Den feels more like a slasher film than a found footage film, and the cyclical nature of the whole thing is wonderfully unnerving, as is the randomness of it all. It reminded me a lot of The Strangers as well, which I also love. The Den is an under-discussed horror film that really deserves a bigger audience. If you have any interest in found footage, or liked Unfriended at all, The Den is definitely worth your time.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.