“Untraceable” can be lauded for one thing – it takes the two most cliched types of serial killer movie and tries to fuse them together to create a spark of something original. Instead it ends up simply failing to work on either front and in doing so alienates both the demographics it is targeting.
On the one hand you’ve got the conventional FBI hunting a serial killer thriller. It’s a genre so well-trodden that every conceivable twist has been spoiled by countless films and TV shows. Still there’s a good premise here, the FBI’s cybercrime division hunts a serial killer using a website to transmit his slayings live – the more people who watch, the quicker and more painfully the victim dies. In an age of increasing cyber-voyeurism it brings up relevant issues about levels of responsibility, media saturation and guilt by association.
It also works hard to establish both its characters and their jobs at the start. Diane Lane plays the female investigator role with her usual assertive panache, Colin Hanks is an affiable tech geek, and Billy Burke is one of the few nice cops on the beat. The dialogue sounds reasonable enough to pass for computer and Internet experts, and it deliberately takes time out to cover little technical details about site accessibility and reasons for being unable to trace the killer that many of these kinds of films would simply skip.
It’s a shame that it all goes to waste as the conventional thriller morphs into cheesy “Saw” style torture porn antics about 40 minutes in before petering out with a surprisingly underwhelming and sudden conclusion. Thankfully it avoids the worst cliche of all in these films – a colleague being the killer. Right from his first appearance on screen early on in the film, cutie Joseph Cross attacks and tortures someone which stops the whodunit element in its tracks.
Every other cliche however is ready and apparent. Increasingly grotesque Jigsaw-style death traps? Check, an otherwise smart female lead who makes increasingly dumb horror movie style decisions? Check, fellow FBI colleagues becoming the next victim? You betcha. Everything from battery acid, to heat lamps and rotary saws are used to up the ick quotient. There’s even a short but awful bit of cat torture that’s just cruel and makes one wonder why someone of Diane Lane’s caliber would sign up for such base crap.
Maybe it was the presence of Director Gregory Hoblit who’s otherwise had a very strong resume with 1996’s brilliant legal thriller “Primal Fear” and solid efforts like Denzel Washington spooker “Fallen,” last year’s legal drama “Fracture” and Jim Caviezel time-traveler “Frequency.” Hoblit’s films often contain a smart end twist, something not visibile at all here. His motives for the killer’s actions do point a somewhat damning finger at cable news and the YouTube crowd, and his crew do solid work – especially D.O.P. Anastas Michos’s cool and clinical visuals.
Yet its a misfire pure and simple. The “Saw” teen crowd will often be bored by the long-winded setup to get to all the grisly flesh cutting. The older and more distinguished fans of Lane or conventional murder mysteries will shy away from the bloodletting and dumbed down horror cliches. Interesting moral questions are raised but pushed into the background by tedious attempts to generate suspense. Untraceable is ultimately uninteresting.