Nacho Vigalondo has always been known for his work on boundary-pushing genre cinema and his latest effort, Open Windows, is no exception. Starring Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey, Open Windows takes place entirely on a computer desktop, panning to and from, and zooming in and out of ‘open windows’ in a fake one-take that is stylistically impressive and structurally subversive. Taking place in a dystopic near-future the film centres on Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood), a super-fan of Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey) and administrator of one of her major fan-sites. Under the impression that he has won a dinner date with the star and while awaiting further instruction on redeeming his prize from a disembodied voice coming from his laptop, Nick is unwittingly tricked into activating the camera and microphone on Jill’s cell phone and begins spying on her (against his wishes) as she goes to meet her agent, with whom she is having an affair. Things go awry as Nick becomes embroiled in a super hacker’s plot to kidnap the star and from here everything goes off the rails. The film is a nice little addition to the broad cyberpunk genre, a field of film-making which has seen very little attention in modern years.1
Whilst the concept is fantastic and the structural execution of the conceit is solid, the film isn’t without some serious problems. It’s a tall order to expect viewers to sit and watch a computer screen for 100 minutes and although Vigalondo constantly employs new techniques to keep it fresh, it does get a bit tiresome in the latter half of the film. There are also occasional immersion breaking streaks of bad-acting from Elijah Wood, obviously finding it a bit hard to talk to no-one while staring directly at a camera’s lens; in contrast, Sasha Grey seems to fare much better in this arena and turns in an impressive (if a little B-Movie-centric) performance. The plot is quite convoluted and often will take a backseat to the showcasing of some technical achievement that Vigalondo has managed to pull off on his relatively small budget (not that this is necessarily a bad thing in this kind of a film). On the whole, the endeavour might have been a little bit too ambitious and could have used a little extra time in pre-production to iron out a few issues and make the whole thing just that little bit better.
Despite these flaws, the film’s positives well outweigh its negatives; Open Windows is a whole lot of fun and despite containing a strong (if simplistic) message about privacy in the modern age that doesn’t really need to be forced down the viewers’ throat (thankfully it isn’t), Vigalondo’s moral dilemma takes a backseat to what is, at the end of the day, a really fun, really creative genre flick from a unique modern talent. In true Vigalondo style, every possible angle is exploited on our desktop setting – this helps maintain the film’s steady pace for the majority of the film and it’ll be hard to identify any single moment in which Vigalondo phones it in. The cinematography, given the film’s constraints and need to consistently uphold its self-imposed structural rules (near full restriction to webcam and security camera footage only), is very impressive, and the post-production colour-grading perfectly evokes a sort of near-future nightmare world. This is a universe in which we have become ever more tied to the machine without technological enhancements being reflected in something worthwhile like cybernetic augmentation – instead, we see our technological gains just tied us up further and further in our culture of surveillance and social media. The effort Vigalondo has put into world building, a strong and often overlooked aspect of a lot of his other work, is really impressive and unfortunately hasn’t garnered the praise or (at the very least) mention it probably deserves. I have to also applaud the meta-joke surrounding the films premise– the fandom that engulfs the life of Jill Goddard is clearly meant to reflect the creepy mega-fandom that surrounds Sasha Grey due to her prolific stint in the adult film industry, and this is toyed with to extremely humorous effect in the film’s opening minutes before transitioning into a much more dark and serious (and arguably half-baked) critique of celebrity culture.
At the end of the day and in spite of its multiple issues Open Windows is a really enjoyable film which impressively messes with the form of modern Horror cinema. It’s fairly easy to overlook plot and performance issues when the main creative idea behind the film is a single construction-centred concept – especially when it is pulled off so proficiently (for the most part). Admittedly, the film requires a lot of suspension of disbelief (what futuristic dystopia doesn’t?) but if you’re willing to do that, there’s a really fun time to be had in the world of Open Windows, and a lot of fresh ideas to keep genre-fans intrigued and entertained in the face of some pretty obvious issues.