Full disclosure: I know Nacho Vigalondo too well to claim any kind of objectivity here. This is not a review. It does, however, contain vague spoilers for the end of the film.
Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows is a curious film. It has an intriguing visual storytelling mechanic and an extremely ambitious mystery plotline that doesn't entirely work, but its most interesting elements are those that make it topical. It’s a full-blown attack on privacy invasions, celebrity image theft, and the sexism that frequently drives them.
Open Windows’ main character Nick (Elijah Wood) is a celebrity-gossip blogger - specifically, his site traffics exclusively in photos, scans and videos of movie star Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). As the movie opens, he’s won an online competition to have dinner with his idol, and he’s very excited about that. It’s a skeevy starting point, if not necessarily an illegal one. But when the dinner is called off and Jill’s agent Chord (Neil Maskell) offers Nick a chance to hack her phone and computers in order to watch her evening unfold, the story ventures into unpleasant territory - territory that has suddenly become more relevant than ever, in the wake of the likes of GamerGate and The Fappening*.
Privacy is a major issue nowadays, given that there are cameras on everything, and most of those everythings are connected to the Internet and thus, in theory, vulnerable to exploitation. And exploited they have been of late. Between GamerGate’s invasive personal attacks and the Fappening’s proliferation of stolen nude photographs, we’re seeing the ugly side of the open web. These practices are driven by anonymity and disrespect for others online. When people are just images on a screen, they cease to be people to some, which - coupled with the lack of consequences that comes with an anonymous online existence, makes it all the easier to breach their privacy and ruin their lives. It’s also driven by sexism and blind male lust. How many male victims of nude-selfie theft have there been? How many males have been bombarded with death or rape threats? I’ve been pretty vocal about this stuff and the worst I’ve gotten was a castration threat and a couple hacked gaming accounts.
We see this woven throughout Open Windows. What seems to be a production gimmick (the whole movie takes place on a computer screen) puts us where the action takes place - over the internet, outside of but affecting the real world. So it’s not a gimmick - it’s central to the meaning of the story. That story takes approximately a thousand turns over the film’s 105 minutes, most of which revolve around different forms of privacy invasion. There’s phone hacking, laptop hacking, and even some goofy future-tech that uses an array of cameras to create a 3D image of an area. The movie jumps through a lot of hoops to stay on the computer screen, but it all comes back to Nick’s original desire to see more of Jill - and his reaction when furtive peeks are offered to him.
The casting of former porn actress Sasha Grey as Jill is no accident, either. Who better than a porn star (one of the savviest graduates of that industry) to portray a character beset by psychotic fan obsession and stalking? It’s a delightfully meta piece of casting that says a lot about the character and her relationship with her fans without wasting a single line on exposition.
Open Windows hits its most potent climax fifteen minutes before the movie ends, before collapsing under the weight of its own ambition and its rat-king of plot twists - but both that climax and the actual ending have things to say about complicity and engagement. The moment at which I was sure the movie was going to end brings the public into the mix, making them directly culpable for Jill’s fate. Ultimately, if there’s no audience, there’s no reason to publish any of the material Nick, Chord, or real-life hackers steal. That’s the most sickening thing about purveyors of stolen celebrity nudes - to them, their victims are less people than collector’s items. They’re objects to look at and be traded. These thieves view themselves as Robin Hood figures, performing a public service, providing the people with what they want, irrespective of whether or not it’s legal or moral to do so. Sadly, incident after depressing incident has proven that there is a willing audience out there, and it’s rabid. Possibly with actual rabies.
The very ending is maybe even more upsetting, though in a less ostentatious way. If I’m unpacking its weird logic right, it has the film’s characters retreating from the world in order to avoid the scrutiny of the public. So it is in real life, where all the Internet’s hate and prying eyes have been enough to drive some voices into the shadows. The fact the movie ends with the central laptop being closed is a pretty clear signal to disconnect - a disheartening admission of defeat.
The open windows of Open Windows aren’t just the ones on Elijah Wood’s laptop. They’re windows into our lives that can be prized open by anyone with the right will and know-how. In the age of the internet, where cameras are everywhere, there’s no such thing as privacy. The inescapability of that is chilling. And though the movie occasionally dips into (admittedly entertaining) ‘90s hacker-movie silliness in order to push its plot along, the themes at its core remain solid. If you can muscle past the plot weirdness, you’ll find a movie with a strong insight into celebrity culture in the Internet age.
Open Windows is available on VOD right now. It will also hit theaters on November 7.
* If you’re blissfully unaware, “The Fappening” is the “official” term for the slew of stolen celebrity nude photos that humiliated the internet with their presence in August. It was coined by the thieves themselves, and its coarseness evokes the appropriate image of both the event and its instigators.