8mm updated for the Skype age, Zachary Donohue’s The Den reminds us that those looking for the worst shades of humanity need only spend a few minutes video-chatting with strangers.
After receiving a grant to study every nook and cranny of The Den, a stand-in for such chat sites as Chatroulette and Omegle, it isn’t long before Elizabeth (Melanie Papalia) has seen a kid with a monster in his closet, an abundance of swinging dicks, and what’s either a very convincing prank or an actual teenage girl getting her throat slit.
This naturally leads down a rabbit hole for which the mild-mannered grad student is wholly unprepared. The entirety of Donohue’s film is shown from the point of view of its heroine’s computer desktop, usually with both her webcam’s feed and that of her conversation partner’s shown simultaneously. This represents only a slight variation on the found-footage format, but Donohue has the good sense to elide more than he explicitly shows, at least until the uninspired third act. The Den‘s commitment to its presentational conceit leads to a number of implausible scenarios, but what’s more disheartening is the gore-fest it turns into once the curtain is thrown back on the mystery propelling both Elizabeth and the narrative.
The movie is at its most interesting when the randos Elizabeth chats with are at their most mundane — only when observing the denizens of the internet in their actual, often quite boring state does The Den show us things that a hundred other horror films don’t.