People that know me can tell you I’m a bit of a technophobe; I call it “old-fashioned”, but in any case, it is what it is. I prefer to talk rather than text; I didn’t even own a cell phone until my late thirties, and didn’t get a “smart” phone until last year (I still hardly use the damned thing)…I prefer owning physical copies of my films and music rather than trusting a “virtual license” for the material…I prefer actual books to a “reader” device. It’s not that I don’t think such innovations are beneficial, but I’ve often wondered (and you can blame this on my upbringing) if perhaps certain things in life weren’t meant to be simplified or easy; where has that much-vaunted “character-building” that I recall from my youth gone? It’s comes off as damned spooky to me when I go to a McDonald’s or Taco Bell nowadays and hear the virtual silence over the dining area as people are absorbed in their touchscreens…is that better or worse than the laughing and carousing teen cacophony I recall in such places in my own younger days?
I guess I worry that our species is doomed to become near-formless slugs in the next couple millennia, having no need for any appendages other than thumbs to strike the keys on our virtual, holographic texting devices. Like it or not, we are in many ways becoming quite reliant on the little computers we carry in our pockets, and though these little stewards certainly have their good points, I shudder at the bad possibilities that such dependency could foreshadow…
…which brings me to the film I-LIVED, Franck Khalfoun’s recent offering that raises certain uncomfortable questions about our growing obsession with electronics, and what faceless powers actually run these applications and programs we value so dearly.
Josh is like every other YouTuber you’ve ever seen; overly-excited, a master of bad jokes, and a lover of unnecessary video effects in his postings. A graduate of Stanford, he’s decided against traditional employment and begun his own thing, “J-Tech”, an internet start-up reviewing iPhone apps…which apparently isn’t exactly bowling folks over. His father is disappointed in him, his bills are overdue, and his landlady is a constant menace. As fate would have it (heh-heh), Josh comes across an app called “i-Lived”, designed as a self-help program, setting up objectives for the user to accomplish once they’ve selected a particular goal. Having no success at getting “six-pack” abs with the application, Josh discounts it to his audience with a mediocre rating; however, out with one of his nerd friends and finding himself attracted to a young woman at the bar, the app texts him with encouragement to go for what he wants. Following this electronic advice, he finds success with striking up a conversation with the object of his desire, even to the point of a continuing relationship. Encouraged, Josh types in more and more goals (higher viewers, a better job, etc.), meeting with the same level of success each time, and he re-states his review online to a five-star rating. Content that he’s where he wants to be, he discontinues his subscription to the app…and everything falls out from under him.
Every aspect of his life crumbles into a greater state of disarray than before; the girlfriend ups and leaves, the job falls through, his viewership plummets, and his very ill mother now totters on the brink of death. He finds himself drawn back to the comfort of “i-Lived”…but the stakes are now higher, the “missions” more diabolic, and we the audience wonder just how far Josh will follow the instructions of the app, and just who is responsible for it’s creation?
For a low-budgeter, I was impressed with the production value exhibited in the film. The sets, camera-work, and overall atmosphere were well-done, with some creative use of angles and “internet” inserts, including surveillance footage and other staples of “found-footage”, used here in a more relevant (and less annoying) manner. The acting overall was pretty solid, with any missteps quickly forgotten. With flashes of some pretty good “nerd-humor” and a unobtrusive vibe reminiscent at times of The Devil’s Advocate or Rosemary’s Baby, there’s a feeling of dread cloaked in a real-world trope of the “loveable loser”. There are some bumps in the road editing-wise, but I still felt the film maintained a level of watchability throughout. I was a little put off by the nonchalant way “the Devil” was handled in the film (that’s not a spoiler, you can glean from the trailer that Old Scratch is involved), but again, we’ve seen it before in the same fashion, so I guess I can’t gripe too much.
I have to agree with some of my contemporaries in that this flick seems more like a fleshed-out episode of The Outer Limits or Darkroom than a horror film; there just isn’t much in it that I found scary. It comes across as more of a morality play about decisions based on ease (read: laziness), and the consequences of said decisions.
That’s not to say I didn’t find the film entertaining; I’ve spent a lot worse times in front of the screen, and I found the premise and the story engrossing without being preachy or overbearing. Being a techno-…ahem…”old-fashioned”, I found the concept poignant and relevant to our current love affair with iPhones and Samsung Galaxies…it begs the question of just how much should we rely on our damned phones to run our lives, and dances with the notion of whether or not the Devil himself would eventually make use of such technology.
So there you have it; it’s not a bad flick, and if you’re the type that digs a slow-build thriller that reflects the times we live in while maintaining a veiled tongue-in-cheek, I would say check this one out…but if you’re looking for a scary, sleep-with-a-night-light chill-fest, you’d be better served walking on.
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