Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the BFI London Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://www.bfi.org.uk/lff and follow the event on Twitter at @bfi.
In hacking terminology, to ‘rat’ involves deploying a form of aggressive malware called a Remote Administration Tool in order to gain control of a computer system’s functions, with the titular word of Branden Kramer’s cyber chiller denoting the person behind the hack. A ‘ratter’ is able to gain remote access of connected devices whilst staying completely anonymous; the ‘hackee’, as it were, remains completely oblivious. This chillingly compelling premise, originally explored in Kramer’s 2012 short Webcam, is fleshed out in good measure in Ratter, a film included in a wave of recent cinematic endeavours attempting to tackle the authentic dangers of cybersecurity and cyberspace on the big screen.
Our instantly likeable protagonist, college freshman Emma (Ashley Benson) is living away from parents for the first time in Brooklyn, unaware that an anonymous cyber-sleuth has hijacked the numerous personal devices she surrounds herself with, in an age of ever-increasing dependency on new technology and an era of obligatory self-documentation, particularly for the younger generation. Kramer has, in a sense, created a new, contemporary cinematic language by railroading a viewing audience into the POV of Ratter’s cyberstalker; every shot is from one of numerous hacked devices, including Emma’s laptop webcam, her front and back facing phone cameras, and even an Xbox Kinect. Immediately, the audience is voyeuristic accomplice to the ratter’s undertakings, establishing an almost overwhelming sense of urgency and futility. From opening to closing shot, Ratter is almost unbearably tense, and persistently overwhelmed with an ominous, unpleasant sense of foreboding.
The use of technology to terrorise is hardly a modern innovation in filmmaking; from the likes of The Ring to Unfriended to Chatroom, the sheer omnipotence of technology and the disturbing extent to which modern society is dependent upon it has been a prevalent theme for decades, and explored to no end by filmmakers - but not quite like this. Ratter resembles the jolty, stomach-churning nature of a found-footage horror film minus the usual, predictable claptrap that accompanies it, by exhibiting an aura of unnerving intrusiveness; the raw nature of the frames put the audience in a very uncomfortable position: we are, in an idle, devilish way, somehow complicit in this gross invasion of privacy. Furthermore, Kramer uses this to raise interesting questions on technology’s dominant role within society and shed light on a disturbing new phenomena that likely has implications for us all. His constructed narrative is a feasible reality masquerading as an evocative and thoughtful cautionary tale only relevant in the digital age.
Certainly not ground-breaking, Ratter is a must-watch evoking sustained paranoia throughout and weaving nail-biting tension into every shot. Though the lacklustre ending descends into a predictable, pseudo-horrific shamble, the smooth, fluid action of Ratter, its inherently natural performances, namely from the talented Ashley Benson, and the air of reality it consistently cultivates make it scarily relevant to us all. This eerie techno thriller epitomises society’s worst technological nightmares, providing a wise cautionary tale that should be heeded by all in an age of the blurry notion of privacy.
Certainly not ground-breaking, Ratter is a must-watch evoking sustained paranoia throughout and weaving nail-biting tension into every shot. This eerie techno thriller epitomises society’s worst technological nightmares, providing a wise cautionary tale that should be heeded by all in an age of the blurry notion of privacy.