Hideo Nakata directed the Japanese-language horror Ringu and Ringu 2 before being courted to direct The Ring 2, the American remake sequel to his own franchise, and a film that wasn’t very good, but one I would watch five times over before enduring his 2010 Cannes Film Festival entry Chatroom ever again. Billed as a thriller, this film is anything but. In fact, it’s a tedious bore that does nothing but lay there like a dead fish. To say nothing happened in this film is nearly an understatement.
The setup is interesting, but almost immediately you can tell this film is going to have problems. Aaron Johnson, the title star of Kick-Ass, plays William, a disturbed young man with a suicidal past. Just ending a series of therapy sessions, William has seemed to disguise his still-lingering dark side and has set up an online chatroom in an effort to coerce others into his world through kindness and reassurance only to use their weaknesses against them
William’s room introduces us to a group of four troubled teens, each with their issues. This includes Mo (potential pedophile), Emily (looking for attention from her family), Eva (lacking respect from her friends) and finally Jim (clinically depressed). Recognizing the easy mark, William singles out Jim, played by Matthew Beard who was last seen as Graham in An Education. Once Jim reveals he’s been taking anti-depressants William urges him off them, opening the emotional flood gates.
The chatroom scenarios are inventively achieved using the characters real-life personas inside a seedy, imaginary virtual world rather than showing a string of back-and-forth text messages, but the invention wears thin almost as soon as it’s introduced and you begin looking for a story. The story is where this film just gives up and as an audience member I wanted to join the several people around me that in fact did. By the time the film was over my row was dwindled down to three people, and considering some waited around 90 minutes just to get into the theater and they could only endure about 30 minutes of this movie says more than any review could.
Chatroom would have worked much better as a twisted short film. The introduction of four teens on top of William was too much for this story to sustain. The script by Enda Walsh, adapted from his own play, forgets about characters for long stretches of time, only to have them show up again later in the film with no regard for their previous situation.
Nakata is 0-for-2 with me when it comes to his English-language features. I have yet to see his original Japanese features, which may be where he shines and something is simply lost in the translation. However it works out, Chatroom is a disastrous effort, the end couldn’t come soon enough.
Chatroom screened in the Un Certain Regard category at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival.