Like another Toronto After Dark selection, The ABC’s of Death 2, Open Windows is somewhat hamstrung by its premise. The entire movie takes place on the desktop of Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood), as a fan and blogger who wins a dinner with his favourite scream-queen Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) and is promptly rebuffed. Upon learning of this, Chambers is contacted via instant message by 'Chord' (the voice of Neil Maskell) who tempts him with glimpses into Goddard's most private communications, including full access to her cell phone and a camera trained on a hotel room where she's carrying on an affair with her director. From there, Chord uses Chambers as his eyes and ears in increasingly more elaborate and disturbing ways as he mounts a relentless pursuit of Goddard. As the title suggests, this all plays out in browser and Skype windows on Chambers' laptop, which do a serviceable job of moving the plot along (though the device becomes less and less credible as the story moves away from a static location).
The incredulity brought on by the story tends to snowball as Chambers leaves his room, laptop in tow so we can follow the action. There's a good effort here to keep things relatively grounded in reality and Open Windows handles the technology aspect of the story better than most, but the last third of the film attempts to do way too much while keeping the story confined to a computer desktop. A car chase and foot pursuit is well outside the purview of this device, and the former is too long and elaborate of a scene to be successful. I think most viewers will wish that the film would switch to a more traditional point-of-view by the time the film enters its final throes.
Elijah Wood is a good anchor for the film, which is fortunate because his face is front-and-centre for almost the entire running time. He transitions between emotions and roles seamlessly, and like his turn in 2012's Maniac, takes more than a few risks with his portrayal of the socially-awkward, easily-manipulated Chambers. Unfortunately, Woods performance isn't matched by anyone else in the film, least of all Sasha Grey. Grey, as in her roles in several other films like The Girlfriend Experience and Would You Rather, can't muster a scene with real emotion or gravity to save her life. Scenes in which she'd be expected to be terrified or dehumanized read as bored, and ironically, the scenes where she's most animated and most like a human being are the ones that open the film, where she's ostensibly pretending to act in a campy action/horror. Supporting roles from the other actors are also weak. It's too bad, because Woods performance is worth going out of one's way to see.
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This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on Mcsweeneys.net, the CBC Street Level Blog, Ohmpage.ca, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.