Movie Review- Untraceable

Hi Folks,



So today we’re going to go on our first smarty pants adventure of the horror-thon. A true thriller and fairly recent Fright Dyke favorite. It’s one of the more horrifying examples of this subgenre that I’ve seen.




Fast Facts


Made in 2008 this one is an original, no source material. Crazy that a screenwriter might have to come up with the plot too huh? Blasphemous.


So we’ve discussed before that the most common form of thriller (at least the one’s that will make it on this site) are a more refined version of the slasher movie. The serial killer hunt.


Wearing a tie doesn't count bub

Untraceable follows the investigation of a serial killer running  a kind of interactive murder website called (the promo site still works if you’re interested in a little viral marketing fun) with Jigsaw style contraptions that are activated and intensified by the number of people tuning in to the live video stream of the murder. An FBI agent in the cyber crimes division, Jennifer Marsh, goes toe to toe with the killer/facilitator and we get to watch the grisly ride.




Apparently law enforcement agencies only hire from modeling agencies


Diane Lane- Plays Jennifer Marsh, our hero, does a stand out job of it too. Hard to fill this kind of role without drawing comparisons to the great Jodie and Silence of the Lambs but she holds her own comparisons or no. It’s always an honor to be given the most coveted and dangerous role in horror: the gutsy cop matching wits with a psychopath.


You just know he hates being this adorable

Colin Hanks- Plays Griffin Dowd, Jennifer’s partner in the cyber crime unit. He’s kind of a nerd and the comic relief, what little there is. Yes he is the son of the great Tom Hanks and yes he’s just as good and likeable as the old man. He’s essentially given the least coveted and most expendable role in horror: the gutsy cop’s funny partner.


So...why do you suck now?

Billy Burke- Plays Detective Eric Box the Portland PD’s liaison on the case and while he’s set up to be a love interest for Jennifer, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised as to how his role played out. Of course now Mr. Burke makes his money playing the main character’s father in Stephanie Meyer’s sorry excuse for a supernatural romance series. He showers twenty times a day and can’t get the glitter off.


Got bored with WoW did you?

Joseph Cross- Plays Owen Reilly, the killer. No I’m not actually giving anything away the movie clues you in about halfway through. He does a really nice job, though the character’s idea is much more frightening than the character itself. He is passably terrifying.





This one is noteworthy, if nothing else (and there’s plenty of else) for blending two seemingly irreconcilable subgenres: the psychological thriller and Power Tools Behaving Badly (aka torture porn).  This movie was made a scant four years after Saw and the effect can be seen in the finished product. Saw introduced the idea of the elaborate trap. Untraceable takes it in a less gritty/vomit inducing spinny cam direction.


Also significantly less-waking up with a miracle of engineering on your head

There is also the larger issue this movie raises, our culture’s voyeuristic relationship with violence online and the insensitivity, borderline inhumanity that the anonymous nature of our internet personas provide.


What? BeTTertHanCAtNip420 is utterly representative of who I am.

But we’ll get to the civics lecture later.


First off; I was not expecting this movie to be as brutal as it is. Not that these things can’t be, or inherently aren’t. That just isn’t what you typically expect in this subgenre. Se7en not withstanding, most thrillers are big on the suspense and not so much on the red stuff. Untraceable has a balanced blend of both. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of pain (not death, there is a distinction) that they showed on screen, the inventive killing techniques weren’t used as an excuse to sterilize the killing and that goes a long way to not only making the movie more watchable, but also to get it’s point across.'ve got some red on you...

There are only three (legit) kills in Untraceable and while that’s a very low number and I admit the movie would have been improved a bit with less Diane Lane “How do I manage being a single parent and an FBI agent at the same time?” backstory; and a little more “Holy crap I can’t believe people want to watch THAT”; we’ll give it a pass. It is a thriller after all.


Those are heat ever seen a marshmallow left over the fire too long?

This film uses anticoagulants, heat lamps and sulfuric acid; in conjunction with barbaric assholes as instruments of slow, painful death. The interactivity angle adds some nice tension to the kill scenes as they cut between the hit counter climbing steadily higher and the distraught FBI trying to figure out a way to stop what’s happening. As the numbers climb the torture intensifies and the cops are mostly in a position to do nothing but watch.


This is pretty much all she can do for most of the movie

This is by no means a new suspense building technique; adding a time limit for these things is like practically pulling a gun on the already amped up audience. The difference with this set up is that the characters know there’s a time limit as well as the audience and the live streaming feed gives them a much more accurate idea of it than say your normal editing trick of victim/cop running/victim/cop running etc. etc.


Sick Bastards!

The second interesting thing about this film (and here’s the civics lecture) is that it’s a social commentary on our collective desensitization to violence and violent imagery. We are supposed to be disgusted by the MILLIONS of people tuning in to the website in the film.


But we’re watching the film.


While thrillers are generally targeted at a different audience than other horror movies; (I once heard them described as horror movies for ‘smart people’-fuck you) this is again a brutal movie depicting imagery of violent torture and death and it was made as entertainment. It’s the age old conundrum of horror fans over the age of 14…


‘Is it ok that I’m watching this?’ and ‘Is it ok that I am on some level enjoying it?’


Yeah probably not with this one...


I would argue that even by the filmmakers’ standards in this case the answer is yes. They are particularly concerned with the internet and I’m sure would argue that works of fiction don’t count; we’re talking about the real footage of accidents and autopsy photos here; posted on the world wide web for every loser with an IP address, skidmarks in his underpants and a permanent residency in his parent’s unfinished basement to mock, repost and generally shit all over other people’s misfortune for hours on end.


And I’m a horror fan and a relatively well-adjusted human being, so here’s my two cents.


If you ever find yourself wondering whether or not you SHOULD be looking at something; ask yourself a question.


Is it real?


If you answered ‘no’ congratulations you’re sort of normal. I believe it is natural to want to explore the morbid and dark side of human existence. If you’re doing it in a

Context where no one really gets hurt and you have a functioning reality/fantasy switch you’ll be just fine.



If you answered ‘yes’ (you answered yes didn’t you, you sick fuck)  this is where we run into a bit of a snag. The type of moral snag that Untraceable is trying to address. Is it acceptable to treat real life tragedy as entertainment?


The answer to that question is a resounding no. I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter how boneheaded the actions of the person involved either, this is the reality vs. fantasy switch we discussed earlier. You want to see something terrible happen to another human being? The fictional representation should be more than enough for you.


Or Diane Lane's gonna put a cap in your ass


God again with the analysis?!



Thirdly, thrillers do not abide by the rules of slashers, but they do generally have a lot of the same tropes. Untraceable goes out of it’s way to break a lot of them. Marsh’s family is in danger? She sends them away to safety without so much as a peep. She’s a single mom and a hot street cop gets assigned to her case? He knew her husband? They’re both attractive heterosexual persons? Guess what…they don’t fuck. You think there might be a guy hiding in your hotel room so you…leave immediately with no fanfare? OH MY GOD!






Final Thoughts



Untraceable is a very smart, very suspenseful thriller that raises a lot of interesting questions. Even though those questions are pretty easily answered for me they may not be for everyone, which I think is the scariest part of this movie.


What's yours?


All in all an 8 out of 10



Your preachy Screamstress,



~Fright Dyke


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