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A potentially peaceful evening of anime viewing is interrupted by my wife's school chum who recommends we watch a movie about home invasion and webcam murders; the ensuing night reaffirms my desire not to communicate with strangers via 'Chat Roulette-esque' services and introduces a factor of viewing such material that surprises me as a viewer. The Den is actually a slightly older movie than I anticipated, when it was first described to me I anticipated it serving as an indie response to Unfriended: The Dark Web, but the movie was actually released in 2013. Zachary Donohue brings to life a chilling tale of anonymous web chat assaults that rivals and perhaps even surpasses more recent entries in the “found footage,” “webcam” style movies.
I have a certain taste in horror movies, I scare easily and I can appreciate certain stories over and over again, while others fall by the wayside. Particularly, hauntings style movies with strong storytelling and occasional occult influences can draw me in again and again. However, these found footage type flicks tend to leave me wanting, despite being perhaps the more imminently threatening films of the genre. The Den is definitely a one-off watch; I've seen and I believe I'm quite done with it, unless we get a sequel, which the movie almost sets up for, as a sort of commentary on the nature of the movie itself. The final scenes of The Den actually redeem a portion of the movie for me, allowing me to set aside the over the top stupidity of the main characters in some scenes, and as such I will happily offer the movie a 3 out of 5 rating. It was good, it just wasn't great, and it wasn't re-watchable.
The above notes made, sometimes I find that horror movie characters are simply unbelievable, and in this particular instance I find this reiterated over and over. The friends and associates of main character Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia) are near wholly unbelievable. One might assume that, when confronted with certain instances of potential real horror as presented in the movie, the surrounding parties would embrace a bit of wariness, and even a bit more care for the person at the center of these circumstances. Instead, throughout the movie we find Liz driving away those closest to her, and those with some vested interest in her well-being discarding any attempts at explanation as excuses not worthy of a moment's attention. This combined with, of course, pitiful police work throughout the movie and a few moments of sheer stupidity on Ms. Benton's part, sets the stage for another ridiculous heroine to fail miserably over and over.
The Den's greatest power lies in the sheer reality of the subject matter, while the protagonists are horrendously terrible at the survival game, the antagonists represent a faction of humanity which many would seek to overlook and ignore. Throughout the movie Liz and friends are pursued by a fairly large group of underground sadists who seek to inflict pain, fear and eventually death upon those caught in their webcam lenses. These men are brutal, efficient and strike a nerve of mortal awareness every time a sound comes from your house instead of your TV, and you can't quite identify it. But these characters, the masked assailants, kidnappers and harassers, aren't the true villains of the movie. It is not until the very end of the film that we learn who the actual evil in The Den is. I feel like this can be said without spoiling the plot of the movie at all, so I will continue. The true villain of The Den isn't the person inflicting pain on others, it is the viewing audience. The final scene before credits roll features the only non-camera/screencapture portion of the movie in which a man is seen browsing a dark website offering hundreds of similar videos to the one that was just watched. The movie ends with him clicking on a link to purchase a second movie for $99 before his son comes in and interrupts him.
These final moments seem to point a finger at those who observe instead of those who act; certainly the compound full of murderers is to be held accountable for their crimes, but would their crimes even exist without a group of people on the outside willing to pay for the grisly movies they produce?