Tuesday, December 30, 2014

App: This is Why Flip Phones are Coming Back

If you work for Sony, you probably don’t need a Dutch genre filmmaker to tell you how scary the internet can be just now. However, if you are a selfie taking, social network junkie who can hardly put down their smart phones, perhaps you could use another cautionary tale. Arriving at a zeitgeisty moment, while Sony and JLaw are still reeling from their respective hackings, a college student will indeed struggle with digital technology at it most pernicious in Bobby Boermans’ App (trailer here) which launches today on DVD from RAM Releasing.

Initially, technology is not all bad for Anna Rijnders. After all, an experimental implant is keeping her extreme sports dunderhead of a brother alive (hello, foreshadowing). Then the morning after a party at her ex-boyfriend’s Rijnders wakes up with a hangover and a nasty piece of scumware installed on her phone. It is called IRIS and it has an attitude. While it feeds her a few answers during philosophy class, it also has a wicked sense of initiative. For instance, recording and posting naked videos is one of its favorite tricks. It also makes calls at inopportune moments. As we can tell from the prelude, it has already driven victims to suicide.

Just buy a new phone, right? Rijnders tries that. It only makes IRIS angry. Frankly, much of the app’s reign of terror defies logical explanations, but at least it convincingly shores up Rijnders’ actions and motivations. It is sort of like the old cult favorite Electric Dreams, depicting the technology of the day running impossibly amok, but if you buy into it, the films chug along pretty smoothly.

In the case of App, Boermans and screenwriter Robert Arthur Jansen tap into a real and growing paranoia over handheld gadgets and accidental over-shares. Much has been made of its “second screen” component, allowing viewers to simultaneously see supplemental scenes and stills via the real life IRIS app.  Fortunately, the film holds up just fine on one screen, because voluntarily downloading IRIS just seems like bad karma.

Without question, App benefits from its lead performance. Hannah Hoekstra (recently seen in the pretty good Irish horror film The Canal) is no stupid teenager or mindless scream queen. She has a smart, dynamic presence that never taxes the audience’s patience. Obviously, she is not making movies because she is plain, but she feels relatively real and down-to-earth as Rijnders. While she interacts with dozens of supporting cast members, Hoekstra is the only one getting appreciable character development time, but she carries the film rather well.

When was the last time digital and wireless technology were a force for good in a film? Maybe You’ve Got Mail? While there seems to be something problematic about that, this is probably not the right time to argue the point, given the recent cyber-terror attacks. As a result, this should be App’s time to shine. In fact, it is a good film to catch up with on DVD. It is occasionally preposterous, but always solidly entertaining. Recommended for international thriller fans, App is now available for one and two screen home viewing, from Film Movement’s RAM Releasing.