Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Philip K. Dick ’16: Chatter

We might have our misgivings, but the NSA and Department of Homeland Security will assure us their data collection is strictly for our protection. Therefore, a contractor is put in a rather tough spot when he uncovers a threat that is not national security related. Its apparent supernatural nature makes it even more awkward. That poor specialist is in for an eyeful in Matthew Solomon’s Chatter (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Philip K. Dick Film Festival in New York.

Is it possible malevolent spirits can travel through skype? Just watch the opening prologue featuring old school Battlestar Galactica’s Richard Hatch. He will not be returning, nor will his on-screen daughter. David and Laura Cole be the next to learn this lesson. He has returned to Los Angeles to restart his film composing career, in the hopes she can soon join him from London. Being apart, they share a little “sexy time” via webcam, thereby attracting Martin Takagi’s clandestine interest. However, he periodically sees strange shapes and the like behind the musician that trouble him.

Plagued by eerie sobbing noises and a general sense of unease, David Cole gets little sleep and his disposition suffers. Soon his email files start to go astray and his skype connects at odd hours of the night. Belatedly, he learns his apartment has had a revolving door for tenants and a reputation for being haunted by a young girl’s spirit. As first, Laura Cole fears he is losing it, but she eventually starts to experience the same ghostly phenomenon. Then the entity really starts to get nasty, which greatly alarms Takagi. However, the director clearly implies he should keep a lid on it.

There have already been a number of skype-surveillance found footage horror films, like Ratter and Joe Swanberg’s installment of the original V/H/S, but Solomon develops a fresh take on the sub-sub-genre. Chatter is certainly informed by the NSA’s controversial data recording and collection programs (the agency and DHS are ironically thanked in the acknowledgements), but the film is not stridently political. In terms of tone, it is more in the tradition of Blumhouse’s supernatural horror than contemporary cyberpunk, but that is not a bad thing.

If you did not already know it is Hatch in the opening sequence, you would probably not recognize him. Regardless, he and Alison Haislip hook us in pretty much from the start. Sarena Khan’s presence really commands the [split] screen as Laura Cole. Conversely, Brady Smith’s whiny demeanor gets tiresome, but the role reversal of victimized husband and doubting wife further distinguishes Chatter from the genre field.

Chatter was obviously shot on a shoestring, even by found footage standards, but Solomon largely overcomes his severe budget constraints. He throws the audience a few twists that are adequately established but not glaringly obvious and keeps the tension nicely amped up. Viewers should also be advised there is a stinger that holds narrative significance. Altogether, it is really scary in multiple ways. Recommended for Blumhouse and Rand Paul fans, Chatter screens this Saturday (1/16) at the Cinema Village, as part of this year’s Philip K. Dick Film Festival.