Chatroom (2010)

Troubled teen William (Aaron Johnson) takes refuge from his lovingly concerned father and successful children’s writer mother in a self-established chatroom called “Chelsea Teens!”. Within minutes, he has assembled a group of followers drawn in by his manic optimism and manufactured charisma, each looking to escape their own individual problems: Eva (Imogen Poots) is an aspiring model tired of the shallowness of her friends; Emily (Hannah Murray) feels she is being deprived of her middle-class parents’ affection; Mo (Daniel Kaluuya) has a secret crush on his best friend’s 11-year old sister; and Jim (Matthew Beard) is a medicated depressive fighting suicidal tendencies. Tired of merely watching videos of others killing themselves online, William is determined to have a front row seat at Jim’s own suicide.

Rounding off the 2010’s trifecta of social network-themed movies with a long overdue screening of Hideo Nakata’s Chatroom, the British horror was always going to have a hard time living up to the likes of David Fincher’s Oscar winning The Social Network and the deeply disturbing documentary Catfish directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman. Despite some interesting ideas and a cast of otherwise capable actors, the film is not only the weakest link but a horribly misguided and occasionally unwatchable English language début for one of the genre’s most renowned agents working today.

Centring on the entirely unsympathetic plights of five vacuous, heavily stereotyped teens, Nakata’s direction and Edna Walsh’s script leave the likes of Kick-Ass‘ Aaron Johnson, Fright Night‘s Imogen Poots and An Education‘s Matthew Beard fighting a losing battle to make it to the end credits with their dignity intact, their considerable talents laid waste to while they stare idly at an interchangeable array of laptops and phones. Even worse off are Skins alumni Hannah Murray and Daniel Kaluuya, who aren’t afforded characters at all, and are instead expected to tread pixels until the ludicrous dénouement set in and around London Zoo. Ranging from forgettable to utterly hateful, the ensemble do little to distract from the myriad other problems and offences commuted to screen.

The irony is that if Nakata had filmed the movie in his native Japan, Chatroom could have been something else entirely; maybe even enjoyable. The central conceit is an effective one, particularly in its inception, where the chatroom is established and the online world first dramatised as a series of very literal rooms, each customised to the specific requirements of its host. Nakata’s style is simply, laughably, incongruous with the London locations – one chase scene in particularly jars dreadfully with bohemian Camden market – while the conventions and requirements of a traditional J-Horror are far from met by the British cast. Alienated through subtitles and other cultural barriers, the audience might have been far more forgiving.

Excruciatingly tedious, embarrassingly scripted and featuring a set of characters you would bait off of the tallest building you could find, this really is an irrepressible mess. Compounded by the sheer amount of talent involved (and relentlessly squandered), Chatroom smarts most because it really could have been so much more. If only Japan did remakes too.

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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