The Den (2013) starring Melanie Papalia, Matt Reidy, David Schlachtenhaufen. Written and directed by Zachary Donohue.
Why do we watch horror movies? Why do we pay to watch someone else’s misery?
The Den is a Netflix favorite of mine and was one of the first movies I watched after setting up my account back in 2014. It stuck with me enough that I wanted to view it again and write this review. It’s an independent film released in theaters in Russia in 2013 and via video on demand in the US in 2014 by IFC. It never got a theatrical release in the US. It’s a super low budget ($500k) found-footage horror/thriller shot almost completely through the point of view of laptops and cell phones.
The plot of The Den involves Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) getting a grant from a university to study human behavior on video chat websites. Her research involves her talking with as many people as possible and documenting her interactions on “The Den” social media software (think Chatroullete). The film is almost exclusively shot from the point of view of her laptop camera and The Den software. We see her talking with the very best and worst of the internet during the first few weeks of her study, resulting in some funny and creepy moments. Things take an eerie turn after she connects with a user seemingly broadcasting the graphic murder of a young woman. She decides to investigate and gets more and more involved in the dark underbelly of the web.
There are three main reasons I really like this movie. The first, is how Melanie Papalia can carry almost every scene. It’s pretty much her face you’re looking at during the whole movie. Her reactions to what she’s looking at conveys almost all the suspense and terror. It’s the very intimate shots that really pull the audience into her personal space and actually makes us care for her character. Second, the film answers the age-old found-footage question of “why is this being filmed?”. Finally, I think The Den sets itself apart from other horror movies by it’s ending. The movie continues for about 2 minutes after a standard horror movie would have stopped and in doing so re-frames the whole thing into a new context. After both of my viewings, I paused for a little bit of self reflection. Why do you watch horror movies?