VOD film review: Ratter
Dread in the moment8
Josh Slater-Williams | On 04, Apr 2016
Director: Branden Kramer
Cast: Ashley Benson, Matt McGorry, Kaili Vernoff
Watch Ratter online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
With Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended and Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows, tech-bound terror has become an increasingly popular source of inspiration for directors looking to thrill, while also keeping an eye firmly on the more problematic elements of society’s ever-developing relationship with the Internet. Joining this small but growing genre is writer-director Branden Kramer’s feature debut, Ratter.
While Unfriended and Open Windows were largely relegated to laptop cameras for their spying and stalking, Ratter stands apart by framing its visuals through other devices that happen to be web-connected. The unsettling setup for the film sees student Emma (Benson, of Spring Breakers and Pretty Little Liars fame) move into a New York single apartment to commence her graduate studies and also distance herself from a controlling ex back in her home town. Unbeknownst to her, however, is the fact that someone has hacked into all of her web-connected devices, giving them the ability to spy on her via laptop, smart phone, games console, you name it. And this predatory proclivity isn’t just relegated to when she’s going about her day in her apartment; thanks to the smartphone hack, the menace is able to stalk her in public places as well.
Like Unfriended, Kramer visualises his entire narrative through what the electronic devices capture, deliberately putting the viewer in the shoes of the film’s unseen villain. In a way, it’s like a found footage movie in which the villain is filming, something that sets it apart from staples of the genre, such as The Blair Witch Project, in which the camera is in the control of the doomed victims. The result is an uncomfortably intimate, slow-burning thriller which asks Benson to give a performance that’s pretty much just her simply existing, until events escalate to a point where the threat to her is very explicitly stated.
Ratter is certainly a film that unnerves and, in a way, it almost plays better in a home media context. When watching a DVD or streaming rental via, say, a laptop or tablet, an extra layer is created in that you’re viewing the film through a device that is used within the film to watch the protagonist. Kramer effectively makes you complicit, something that wouldn’t have been achieved nearly as well if the visuals had occasionally switched to more traditional forms of shooting and establishing environments.
That said, Ratter isn’t the sort of thriller that lingers long in the memory. It provides a sickly feeling while watching it and one heck of a jolt in its bleak finale, but it’s not the sort of film where specific scenes and interactions (excluding the climax) actually stick with you. That’s a by-product of its narrative conception, in that there isn’t really much of a narrative at all. That’s fine for what it is, but it’s almost too lacking in incident, while also being too repetitive, to be a thriller to recommend to any really enthusiastic degree. Ratter is by no means the gimmicky film it could come across as, but there’s ultimately nothing especially transcendent in the terror on display.