Writer-director Branden Kramer puts actress Ashley Benson through the wringer when a stalker turns his attention to her in this solid found footage thriller…
I’ve got to give Ashley Benson a lot of credit – she’s an actress with guts. In Branden Kramer’s debut feature film Ratter, a found footage thriller about a cyber-stalker recording the life of a New York student through her “connected” technology, Benson subjects herself to the sort of “behind-closed-doors” activities we’d rather the outside world never, ever saw. Yes, I’m talking about that first trip to the toilet in a morning, doing exercise videos on the living room floor, and most ghastly of all, passionately pretending to be on stage singing your favourite artist’s latest hit with the sweeping brush handle as your microphone. She doesn’t snore though, so silver linings and all that…
What this does establish, however, is a realistic setting for this contemporary take on privacy infringement and home invasion. Kramer has adapted the film from a short he made in 2012, extending its scope to follow Benson’s Emma as she moves into a city apartment, living away from her parents for the first time while attending university. A stalker hacks into her various camera-enabled technology such as her laptop and smartphone and begins to record her every move including a blossoming relationship with fellow student Michael (Matt McGorry). By witnessing Emma in very ordinary situations – the domesticity of home life and the chores of academia – Kramer gives us a recognisable basis to hang the vulgar intentions of her tormentor.
It’s just what a good home invasion thriller needs – an environment you can relate to, seeing the trappings of your own life within it. When that safe haven is devastatingly ruptured, the cinematic impact is a close approximation of the real thing. What Kramer does really well is take the found footage aesthetic to give an ostensibly familiar set-up a modern, unique dynamic. It works for the most part – Emma’s web-enabled videogame system offering a convenient wide shot of her apartment but one that provides some of the film’s best moments.
While Kramer builds satisfyingly to a climax that truly leaves its mark, Ratter does suffer from its conception as a short. When you remove the credits, the film clocks in at not much more than 75 minutes but could easily have been cut down to below the hour mark. While Emma’s relationship to Michael serves to develop her character, some of their moments of courtship feel contrived, particularly because it is being played out through a combination of her personal technology. This is the first time I’ve encountered found footage romance and it doesn’t work. Other artificially opportune moments distract from the tension too – Emma’s friend calling her on the phone at the exact times the narrative needs to hit the accelerator pedal through Emma’s description of what she’s just seen, heard or read. There’s also a completely unnecessary sequence involving Emma on a night out, its only achievement being to lengthen the runtime.
Gripes aside, Ratter has plenty to offer. It deals with a very contemporary threat that is suitably established through the found footage aesthetic; tangible fears that will resonate with audiences. Kramer’s real skill is using that approach to create some well-orchestrated thrills, using every inch of the frame to ponder what might be lurking in the darkness. His technical skill isn’t solely based around locked off cameras though, giving us a claustrophobic sequence involving Emma and her phone as she frantically searches her apartment for a possible intruder while reciting her fears to a friendly caller on the other end of the line as the image captures her panicked movements. Unsurprisingly, he turns to these strengths for the film’s finale: a sequence that thematically, and to some extent through its execution, reminded me of the brilliant opening to Fred Walton’s When A Stranger Calls.
Written by Dan Stephens
Directed by: Branden Kramer
Written by: Branden Kramer
Starring: Ashley Benson, Matt McGorry, Rebecca Naomi Jones
Released: 2015 / Genre: Found Footage / Thriller
Country: USA / IMDB
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