J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Slamdance ’15: Ratter

Surely, even the most tenacious cyber-stalker has to go to work or buy groceries sometime. Somehow, the predator tapping into Emma’s life always seems to be watching. That monomaniacal focus makes it is even more unsettling to watch her through his eyes throughout Branden Kramer’s Ratter, which screens during the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival.

Obviously, we cannot see the man who has maliciously hacked Emma’s computer and assorted internet accessing devices, but he did quite a job on her. Through their web-cameras, he (and we) see just about all of her presumptively private moments. She moved to New York following a rough patch back home, but in retrospect, that seems to be a mistake. When she finally realizes she has been hacked, she immediately suspects her still bitter ex, but he seems an unlikely culprit from our perspective. Unfortunately, the cyber harassment dangerously escalates when the unknown perpetrator starts sabotaging her relationships.

Ratter is the sort of film that will scare viewers into moving a good portion of their lives off-line. Like Bobby Boermans’ more conventionally thrillerish App, it makes retro flip phones look like an idea whose time has come again (they make and receive calls, period). Kramer takes some time to set the scene and flesh out Emma’s backstory, but he steadily builds the claustrophobic tension until you want to scream at her: “get out of the apartment.”

Given its online video look and the menacing vibe, Ratter feels somewhat akin to the original V/H/S anthology film. The most notable dissimilarity—and it’s a significant one—is Ratter’s lack of fun.

In a way, Ashley Benson (of Spring Breakers and Pretty Little Liars) is too realistic as Emma. We see her make dozens of mistakes and in just about every unflattering moment imaginable, yet she always seems like a generally decent, somewhat naïve kid. She also develops some surprisingly down-to-earth flirtatious chemistry with her prospective new boyfriend Michael, also nicely played by Matt McGorry. They certainly do not deserve what befalls them.

Kramer exercises commanding control of the film’s twisted mood and psychopathic concentration, while Benson withstands the relentlessly intimate focus remarkably well. However, even mildly sensitive viewers might be disturbed at where it ends up. Recommended for luddites looking for a bitterly black thriller, Ratter screens again this Wednesday (1/28) at Treasure Mountain Inn, as part of this year’s Slamdance.

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