Diane Lane as Jennifer Marsh
Billy Burke as Detective Eric Box
Colin Hanks as Griffin Dowd
Joseph Cross as Owen Reilly
Mary Beth Hurt as Stella Marsh
Peter Lewis as Richard Brooks
Tyrone Giordano as Tim Wilks
Perla Haney-Jardine as Annie Haskins
Tim De Zarn as Herbert Miller
Chris Cousins as David Williams
Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Arthur James Elmer
Brynn Baron as Mrs. Miller
John Breen as Richard Weymouth
Directed by Greg Hoblit
A blatantly derivative serial killer thriller that proceeds to tick off every single cliché of the genre as the filmmakers proudly show off how many times they’ve watched “Se7en,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “Saw.”
Portland, Oregon is plagued by a serial killer who puts his kidnapped victims on the internet in death traps that do more damage to them the more that people tune in to watch. FBI specialist Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) has to find who is responsible for the killer’s mysterious website “KillWithMe.com” as the killer gets closer and closer to her family.
Writing for a website, you quickly understand the all-important need for traffic and “hits” to stay alive, something that’s been morphed into a premise for the latest Hollywood serial killer thriller, which is trying to act like a higher-brow version of “Saw” thanks to the undeniable talents of Diane Lane. This one involves a bit of internet snuff that isn’t entirely a new idea, having been used in schlock like “fear dot com” and Olivier Assayas’ artier “demonlover,” but in this case, it’s the internet that is the killer, playing to the overwhelming desire for instant entertainment and the internet’s ability to provide lots of shocking and disturbing fodder to do so. Beyond that interesting twist, “Untraceable” essentially pulls out every single serial killer cliché we’ve seen in dozens of movies time and time again, every beat perfectly timed to match the expected formula.
Lane’s Jennifer Marsh FBI agent isn’t exactly treading new ground that hasn’t been covered by Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore beyond the fact that she’s on the FBI’s cybercrimes division based in Portland, complete with a nerdy partner played by Colin Hanks who constantly spouts techno-babble that only a professional hacker might be able to decipher. Both of them seem to be stumped by the new site “KillWithMe.com” which evades all of their normal methods for tracking down internet troublemakers. Staying true to the formula, Marsh is a single mother with a boss who undermines every decision made by his obviously smarter female agent, plus there’s a hunky potential love interest in a local detective Billy Burke, though thankfully, the movie doesn’t “go there.” We spend enough time with Marsh at home with her daughter (played by Perla Haney-Jardine from “Kill Bill Vol. 2”) that you just know the killer will eventually have to strike close to home to create any real tension (see “Red Dragon”), and when that does happen, it might be one of the only truly disturbing scenes in the movie as the girl is stalked by the killer, seemingly as his next victim. After seeing what he did to his last few, it’s not something anyone will want to see.
Gregory Hoblit might not exactly be a hack as a director–he has a few respectable thrillers under his belt like Primal Fear–but he never goes too far out on a limb to make the film exciting, essentially going with the absolute minimum needed to tell the story. That’s the one place where the movie doesn’t try to copy what’s gone before, as it could have livened things up if it were more interesting visually, as David Fincher did with “Se7en.” With each of the four “Saw” movies elevating the tolerable level of gore, Hoblit tries to follow their cue by making each kill even more gruesome and always showing the gory aftermath of each of the killer’s victims.
Along the way, a few interesting ideas are thrown into the mix, but most of those are so ludicrous and unbelievable that you wonder why the government isn’t finding this tech genius killer to put him on their payroll. Otherwise, the movie liberally samples from previous serial killer thrillers (and a couple James Patterson novels) with cliches thrashed about unapologetically, even stealing the famous “Silence of the Lambs” FBI home invasion fake-out, not once but twice. After a number of seemingly unrelated people are killed, all live on the internet, Marsh figures out the killer’s identity–like in “Silence,” we’ve already seen the guy’s face so there’s no surprise twists here–but the way she solves the case makes one think we’re watching a super-genius at work, because the whole thing comes from out of left field and it’s impossible to suss out how anyone would be able to put those inconsequential pieces together. It leads to a predictable climax and conclusion where Marsh faces off with the killer as her FBI colleagues watch their encounter on the internet, rooting for their colleague of course.
The movie’s myriad problems might not be so bad if not for the fact that Lane is such a talented actress, and as hard as she tries to elevate the material, it’s clearly a waste of her talents making you wonder why she bothered doing something like this in the first place.
The Bottom Line:
There have been plenty of good and great serial killer movies over the past ten years and beyond its use of the internet as a weapon, “Untraceable” really has nothing to offer beyond what we’ve already seen before.