Some films sometimes fall between the cracks due to some unfortunate and frankly undeserved reviews. 10 years ago Chatroom was one such film. A disastrous 9% on Rotten Tomatoes would hit many a film badly, and it did not deserve it. It had everything possible going for it based just on Enda Walsh’s superb play. A great director and a terrific cast. What went wrong?
Chatroom follows William (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) a depressed teenager who meets a group of other socially awkward teenagers. Jim (Matthew Beard) who is also depressed, Eva (Imogen Poots) an aspiring model, Emily (Hannah Murray) a well-meaning, but underappreciated girl and Mo (Daniel Kaluuya) who has a crush on his best friends younger sister. While browsing other chats William finds that people can hold a level of control over others and bully them into doing things with some manipulation, William sets his sights on his new unassuming cohort.
The concept of the audience seeing the characters interact not through the actual messages from the chatroom, but in a room is a touch of brilliance and brings the film to life and goes back to the original stageplay. Usually, we see characters in these type of films message from their room with a lovely little bubble beside them or cuts to the screen. Instead, we get to witness the interactions and it allows the audience to feel an actual emotional connection between the group. This is a major success for the film as films such as Unfriended that centered on everyone seeing each other via their screens and by proxy, the audience only seeing this, purposely limited itself. Here we have a very open environment that allows for some creative flexibility and it actually works well.
Hideo Nakata’s visual style is all over the film and none more so than in the chatrooms itself. Subtle things such as the decoration of the rooms are to show what the room should be about and not the originator’s purpose for it. For example, William’s room is practically plush and well decorated, but as he ventures into the more depraved rooms they become far seedier, spray painted and worn down, it allows the audience to get a great sense of what is happening and the themes which again, for a film of this nature is quite the hard thing to do as for the majority of the run time it is almost a shot like a play.
While there are obvious dark threads throughout the film, Chatroom is more of a psychological thriller with Taylor-Johnson being particularly good in his role as the weaver of webs that are really only there to cover his own insecurities and depression. Having William be a complicated character who wants power and attention from others is a great touch as we see that he wants to control over others and have them end their own lives as he has become so utterly lost in his own. Craving the power he needs from others to live this fake life and pretend he is the charismatic charmer. He wants the group to be as lost as him so that then he can have them help persuade Jim to kill himself, but of course, not everyone is like him.
Though as important as Taylor-Johnson is to the film, the rest of the cast are equally as strong and it is clear from their eventual careers that they were going to be stars in their own right. It is just as shame that they get so little time to shine as when we see them together in a group dynamic it helps the film pop. But this is a very good performance from Taylor-Johnson as although his character becomes more and more despicable, you want to keep watching and you almost want him to see the error of his ways and turn the ship in the right direction.
In saying these positives, it is worth noting that there are substantial negatives to the film. One is that we do not get more time with the others in the group such as Hannah Murray and Daniel Kaluuya. They are given interesting side stories, but we never really see more than that after they try to stop William. The film had so much potential to be a defining film of the time and despite it still being a film that is worth your time, it could have been so much more and sadly that falls on the script. Ideas are brought up and then left to the wayside. For some reason, we go from London Zoo all the way to Camden markets with no inkling as to how all the characters know that is where they have to be. It is such a shame as well as it had me, I wanted to know, but the script is not fully realised.
In saying all of that though, there is a serious argument that Chatroom was actually well ahead of its time and would resonate much better with audiences now than it did then. It should be noted that in the UK, cyberbullying was rife and due to the new nature of the format, it was not widely known due to it’s infancy. Nowadays, this is the type of film that would work much better as the majority of adults from 20-35 will have been in similar chatrooms and seen some form of cyberbullying. This is even more relevant when you now take into account social media and the tragic deaths of not only famous people but people from every walk of life.
While at the time it might have felt like a criticism of online chatrooms due to the timing of its release it is also a character study of that generation that felt they needed to go online to find kinship and to try and halt their ever-growing alienation from others around them. By having one person in the group decide to not be their real self and create this destructive journey for everyone. These characters are trying to be themselves and are pouring their thoughts and feelings out to strangers on the internet in the hope that they will emphasise with them.
What perhaps allows Chatroom to connect more is simply how real it feels. As mentioned a lot of people will have seen something like this on social media, the constant wave upon wave of abuse and manipulation attacking someone until it is too much and when it is revealed who is the culprit, it is believable that it is a teenager. We are left with a dark film, but one that works. Chatroom, of course, is not a perfect film, but it is not nearly as flawed as those reviews of the time would like to say. It is well worth your time and it is out on Amazon Prime now.
Thriller | UK, 2010 | 15 | Amazon Prime | Signature Entertainment| Dir. Hideo Nakata | Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Imogen Poots, Matthew Beard, Hannah Murray, Daniel Kaluuya.