Posted: 01/26/2008




by Laura Tucker

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Just what we need, a film like Untraceable to make us paranoid about the internet. Like many other psychological thrillers, it gets in your head to the point where you realize it really could happen, and that’s when it starts to get scary.

The story centers around members of the F.B.I. whose job is to watch the internet and look for infractions there. They aren’t looking for much more that people that are stealing passwords and financial information, as Agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) makes up dummy Capital One cards and stores all her passwords in a folder creatively titled “Passwords,” trying to catch the high tech thieves.

Marsh and her coworker, Griffin Dowd (Colin Hanks), uncover a website,, where a kitten is being tortured live on a webcam. I’m not sure why, but for some reason this part was harder for me to witness than any of the people torturing that would follow. The two agents put this away as just some weird crackpot, and as Marsh drives home, the filmmakers do a good job of showing us how integrated technology is in her life, as she checks with her SUV’s OnStar to get past a traffic jam and tells her daughter she’ll send Evites out for her birthday party. Another clue to what was to come in the film came in here as well, as the traffic jam ended up being caused by a gapers’ block, a tragic accident where people slow down to look, as they just can’t help it.

Not being able to forget about the poor little cat, Marsh tries to shut the website down, but can’t, because of some long-involved high tech explanation. I thought maybe I was the only one that didn’t understand all the computer talk about servers and mirroring until Marsh’s boss indicated he didn’t know any more than I did what she was talking about.

Things go from odd and bizarre to much, much worse as the website moves on to its real target. The cute little kitty was just a test, apparently. Soon on the website, a man can be seen strapped into a contraption, and a message appears on the screen warning that the faster he dies, the more people will watch, meaning the entire viewing internet audience become accomplices as this man eventually dies.

Just the thought of that is scary enough to most of us. How many of us haven’t logged onto a website just to see what it was all about, thinking no one would ever know? If someone sends you a link saying, “Look at this … there’s a guy being tortured live on here,” wouldn’t you at least be tempted to go look? It’s human nature, the very thing behind a “gaper’s block.”

The website only becomes more popular from hereon out. More and more people are tortured, and they begin dying at faster rates, because more people are tuning in. After the killer finds his way into connecting into all of Marsh’s technology, she’s trying to save her family, and not just the public. I didn’t think of it while watching it, but now I’m wondering why an F.B.I. agent doesn’t have tighter protection on her files. Why isn’t there something blocking just anyone from getting into her files, including her work files?

Despite being very predictable for a psychological thriller, Untraceable does well at keeping you on the edge of your seat. I would look over at my son and say, “This guy’s getting it next,” and indeed he would. Yet the theme of a killer using the popularity of the Internet to do his killing is what stuck in my mind. This morning, my son went on the computer and reported back that he had actually tried to go to to see what would happen. Of course, all he got was something connected to the movie, along with stats of how many people actually tried it. I can’t bring myself to type that URL in, even though I know there isn’t anything bad waiting on the other end. The question is, will you?

Laura Tucker is a freelance writer providing reviews of movies and television, among other things, at Viewpoints and Reality Shack.

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