Chatroom is the first original English language movie from Japanese director Hideo Nakata – who created one of the movies that helped to establish a mainstream knowledge of Japanese horror, Ringu, later remade by Hollywood as the less exctinngly named The Ring – and deals with the hot topic of the internet and cyber bullying. Given Nakata’s previous proficiency in creating well crafted, chilling psychological horror, you might expect this offering to provide the viewer with more of the same, as the subject matter certainly seems to lend itself to this format.
Unfortunately, you would be completely wrong, as Chatroom is little more than the equivalent of a hipster internet movie rich kid dressed up in tramp’s clothes – read: great ideas, shitty execution – compared with The Social Network’s well dressed, successful businessman – nothing essentially new but a script and direction that oozes style and class without ever really trying.
Chatroom tells the story of William, a teen who is depressed and suicidal because his rich author mom based the main character of her science fiction books on his successful brother and not him (oh cry me a river), who takes solace in the internet and more specifically the ‘Chelsea Teens’ (seriously) chat room which he subsequently becomes the ‘leader’ of and encourages the other four members to act up in their relative domestic situations.
His main target is Jim, a depressed teenager who’s dad left him at the zoo when he was a kid, who he starts trying to convince to commit suicide. Why? Like Tron, we’re never really sure of his motives, but I guess it’s because he’s bummed out and doesn’t have the balls to commit suicide. The script never really pays that much attention to that aspect, or the plights of the other characters who are woefully underdeveloped as it lurches to its fairly predictable ending amid the pretension of thinking it’s the coolest movie ever made.
Admittedly it is kind of cool how you see the teenagers in real life and then their cyberspace alter-egos are completely different and it does kind of make you think about how the internet has completely changed human interaction over the last ten years. However, I heard that Catfish did this much better.
This is also probably the main problem with the movie as well. As much of it is set in cyberspace, the director chose to imagine cyberspace as a long hallway with various different rooms off of it which the teens can enter and sit on chairs and talk to each other. Sure, this provides a couple of nice touches – when the room becomes password protected they have to type in a door code to get in – but ultimately it just kind of looks like they’re sitting around at a youth club session talking about their feelings rather than actually being on the internet. Or perhaps taking part in an amateur youth production. Only fitting then to see that this was originally adapted from a play – it probably should have stayed there as it simply does not work on the big screen. Don’t bother.