31 Days of Hell: The Den (2013) Reviewed

It is always a shot in the dark randomly picking a horror film from a streaming service. They seem to be mass produced and the quality, well, the quality usually ranges from “okay” to “bad but watchable” to “how on earth did THIS make it on Netflix?” And, if you happen to choose a direct-to-DVD (or Netflix) horror movie that relies on a gimmick to fuel the plot, the odds of finding something worth watching drops dramatically.  So, coming across a film that actually succeeds in not only creepiness and terror, but uses its gimmick in such a way that the viewer becomes completely sucked into the world of the film is a rare treat. Before the surprisingly good Unfriended, its far inferior sequel, Unfriended: The Dark Web, or the recent thriller Searching lured in audiences with the non-traditional, voyeuristic approach of filming a movie using only social media and cell phone or web cameras, a little indie gem called The Den did it better than all of them, for half the budget and none of the publicity.

Oh, jeez. Another penis?!

The Den stars Melanie Papalia as Elizabeth, a graduate student in sociology who has recently received a grant to conduct an experiment detailing how many meaningful conversations can be held while using a social media service similar to Chatroulette called, you guessed it, The Den. Viewers watch as Liz encounters the endless masses of masturbaters one would expect from such a service, but things really get interesting when her chat begins with a girl with a broken web cam. Shortly after this odd encounter, the viewer sees Liz's webcam turn on of its own volition and the eeriness begins to intensify as they realize that our likable, relate-able heroine is in some serious trouble. The entire film hinges on Papalia's performance, and she does not disappoint. Liz is a well-rounded, believable character and Papalia gives her a richness that makes her more than just someone waiting to be murdered. Her performance brings the viewer deeper into the story, and makes them root for Liz to survive because they actually start caring about her. 

In addition to Papalia's strong performance, the other hero of the film is the non-traditional presentation style. The entire film is captured by Liz's webcam, or, later in the film, some other surveillance type cameras, and it really, really ups the ante. Because the viewer is placed in the spot of the voyeur, the creepy, stalker-like, utterly terrifying idea of a young woman being unknowingly stalked by a stranger is able to easily get under their skin. The viewer knows of the danger before Liz does, because they're following the perspective of the villain. It's a very interesting, somewhat unique choice that helps to set the film apart and raise it to a higher level creatively. 

All said, The Den isn't perfect. Nearly every character, other than Liz, is underdeveloped and basically exists as either fodder, or a foil to Liz reclaiming her safety and sanity. But honestly, the negatives found in this film are minor compared to all of it's achievements. If you enjoyed Unfriended or Searching, you'd be hard pressed to make a better movie choice than The Den.  

-Josie Stec