Kristen Bell as Mattie Webber
Ian Somerhalder as Dexter McCarthy
Christina Milian as Isabell Fuentes
Rick Gonzalez as Stone
Jonathan Tucker as Josh
Samm Levine as Tim Steinberg
Octavia Spencer as Landlady
Jeremy Guskin as R.A.
Ron Rifkin as Dr. Waterson
Joseph Gatt as Dark Figure
Kel O’Neill as Douglas Zieglar

Directed by Jim Sonzero

What was originally a creepy, clever thriller is re-envisioned into the type of cliché-filled teen horror movie that Wes Craven and Dimension Films spoofed in the “Scream” movies.

After the suicidal death of her hacker boyfriend Josh (Jonathan Tucker), Mattie Webber (Kristen Bell) and her friends start getting messages from him, leading to a series of strange encounters with ghosts that live in their computers and travel over the internet. Apparently, there’s a citywide virus… and it’s spreading.

(Disclaimer: Dimension Films didn’t screen this for New York critics, not even the customary 10 AM courtesy screening, so if this review comes across as a bit snarky because I had to get up early and go to a rundown New York theatre to watch this movie in order to provide CS readers with a review… well, that’s just tough.)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2001 thriller “Kaïro” was not the greatest horror movie ever made. It had an interesting premise about ghosts in the machine, which in itself is nothing new in the world of Japanese horror, but it’s the way that Kurosawa approached the material that made it so unique. It dealt with the subject of computers and the internet, which still hadn’t quite explored all of the possibilities of iTunes and MySpace at the time, and it foresaw an eerie future where people everywhere would be holed up in their basements or apartments, their only communication with other humans being via text on their computer monitors. It took that idea to its most horrifying conclusion without any worries about ever having to do a sequel.

Unfortunately, it was also very slow and almost impenetrable for anyone who didn’t have a degree in computer sciences. With that in mind, it made perfect sense to remake it in English with an American cast, effectively excising itself of all of the cultural confusion of the original, which may have been why Wes Craven was involved with an early version of it, his script being the basis for this remake.

The dreary premise of kids who spend too much time on the internet before mysteriously killing themselves and a computer virus that is everywhere is given a modern American spin by being placed in the world of cellphones and Blackberries and all encompassing Wi-Fi internet. (And believe me, the irony that I had to spend time trying to find Wi-Fi in order to submit this review was not lost on me.)

The movie opens with computer hacker Josh, played by Jonathan Tucker of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, having a creepy encounter in a library, before cutting to his four friends sitting in a bar talking about how strangely he’s been acting lately. When his girlfriend Mattie (Kristen Bell) goes to check on him, he hangs himself in front of her, starting a chain of events where they’re getting Instant Messages seemingly from his old account. When they start investigating this mystery, each of them encounters and succumbs to techno-spirits, which are essentially the dead trying to return to life via the internet.

This remake certainly moves at a faster pace and is easier to understand than the original Japanese movie, but you have to wonder whether either Craven or director Sonzero fully understood what Kurosawa was trying to do in it. They kept the general computer-based premise and some of the creepy visuals, but got rid of a lot of the clever cultural and social implications behind them. The American “Grudge” remake was done by the original director, still the only person on the world who has any idea what he had planned with that series, and Sonzero fills the gaps in the remake with visuals clearly inspired by it, combined with the standard scares associated with the type of teen horror film where you know exactly when each member of the cast will be attacked by the virus. (Hint: When the fluorescent lights start flashing, it can’t be a good sign.)

The cast is made up of two television stars, a pop star, and a couple horror movie regulars, most notably Tucker, who always looks so depressed that you almost snicker when his friends suggest that they never saw his suicide coming. Kristen Bell is not a particularly good actress, though when someone asks for a younger, cheaper Sarah Michelle Gellar, they could do worse than the cute “Veronica Mars” star. The scenes where she acts upset about the death of her boyfriend is pretty unbelievable, but fortunately, it doesn’t take long for Ian Somerhalder of “Lost” to show up and make Bell seem like Meryl Streep with his equally flat performance. Rick Gonzalez of “Coach Carter” offers a bit of comic relief, making him the perfect target for the ghosts, and Christina Millan could have been replaced by any of a dozen other actresses without being missed.

Otherwise, the movie looks really bad, filled with the type of “style over substance” that could only come from someone whose background is in commercials or music videos. Everything is shot in close-up using awkward camera angles and then badly chopped together, and it might have been meant as irony that the entire movie is as grey as the world depicted in it. Seriously, there’s almost no color in this movie except for blue and grey, the one exception being the ubiquitous red duct tape, the only thing that can keep the virus spirits out.

Unfortunately, the remake keeps the same dismal ending as the original, made even more laughable by Bell’s voiceover explaining how the world will never be the same after the events of the last ninety minutes. Really, there must be a better way to end a dull bit of esoterica like this than by depressing the viewer to the point of wanting to hang themselves… or at least throw out their own computer.

The Bottom Line:
True horror fans won’t be particularly scared or thrilled by anything in this remake, which is not nearly as slow or cryptic as the original, but it’s not nearly as intelligent either. Instead, it’s another perfectly discardable horror-thriller that you can sit through without much pain but won’t remember much afterwards. Fortunately, the movie probably won’t make enough money to become fodder for Dimension’s next “Scary Movie,” though a lot of it is certainly rife for parody.