When Open Windows was making the festival rounds, it played like an increasingly crazy kidnapping yarn where all the action happens on a single laptop screen. Since it’s hitting theaters after August 31st (November 7th to be exact), Nacho Vigalondo’s movie about an actress held against her will plays out very much like a statement on the large-scale celebrity photo leak that was dubbed The Fappening with a speed unique to the internet.
It has the deranged, unseen hacker pulling the strings; the nascent A-lister (played by Sasha Grey) held hostage by the threatened release of a sexual video; and the super fan being used as the reluctant-but-not-that-reluctant tool of her discomfort.
First of all, yes, it’s absurd. It’s a convoluted high concept worthy of Rube Goldberg, and Vigalondo takes great delight in expanding that wackiness. Second of all, it’s not easy to escape the unintentional commentary being offered here, and that’s something the writer/director fully recognizes.
“I was horrified by the leak of photographs of famous women on the internet,” he tells me while nursing a hangover in the (also prescient) Black Lodge-themed karaoke room at The Highball during Fantastic Fest. “I’m horrified about my movie talking so straight about that stuff, and I’m feeling uncomfortable about my movie being a crazy fantasy. Because it’s not realistic at all. It became science fiction. I was so uncomfortable that this movie is a crazy fantasy about something so serious. [The leak] hadn’t happened by the time I was making it. But at the same time, I’m happy that the movie is attempting to make a statement about something. That’s the balance I like. My favorite films are the ones dealing with the serious and the goofy.”
This happens from time to time. A film seems to predict a future event or social atmosphere, or is instantly transformed upon release by a big cultural shift. That’s what’s happening with Gone Girl now, too. A movie made last year, based on a book released two years ago, now finds itself in an emerging social consciousness thanks to Ray Rice’s despicable actions and a handful of other watershed moments (and Twitter) that renders its conceit problematic for more than a few. It’s also managed to catalyze important public discourse. Had it been made even a year earlier, the editorial noise would still exist, but wouldn’t be nearly as loud.
Open Windows won’t have as high a profile as Fincher’s latest porcelain vase, but it found a safe haven at Fantastic Fest ‐ the festival which helped launch Vigalondo’s career by introducing Timecrimes to the right audience.
“It’s a home for me,” says Vigalondo. “I feel comfortable here in many ways. For example, my philosophy in filmmaking is never be classist in the way I approach things. I hate when people consider that something is important because it’s serious. At the same time, I hate when people consider that crazy makes you irrelevant. That connects to this festival for me, because you might see a new Japanese film with school girls and tentacles, and the next movie you see could be Nymphomaniac by Lars von Trier. There’s something behind all that. I want my life to be about that.”
The festival ‐ where Vigalondo yelled “Chaos reigns” into popularity and once drunkenly suplexed Elijah Wood ‐ also makes a cameo appearance in the film, acting as the launchpad for the fictional sci-fi movie that Grey’s Jill Goddard stars in before being hijacked in her Austin hotel room. Wood was one of the Fantastic Fest fans who fell in love with Timecrimes and approached Vigalondo (either before or after being tackled) about making a movie together.
It’s a place where two movie fans met and formed a creative bond.
It’s also a maturing genre festival. Much of Vigalondo’s work prior to Open Windows has been about using a genre framework in order to explore human nature, which is one reason he’s become a staple of the Alamo Drafthouse-housed event. He set his time travel thriller in a peaceful neighborhood; he used an alien invasion in Extraterrestrial as an excuse to let a soap opera and screwball comedy bubble over in a single room where the most dangerous weapon was a tennis ball launcher; in his ABCs of Death segment, he used the end of the world as a reason to escalate a personal vendetta. In his projects, the extreme always seems to meet the intimate.
To that, he owes a split mind.
“When I’m writing, I’m just writing a movie. I’m being the writer. I don’t want to think of myself as the director,” he says. “Some filmmakers, when they write their own stuff, they create things sequences on the page that don’t work at all. They say, ‘Wait until you see it on screen.’ But this is a wound on the story, and you’re trying to heal the wound with your camera. I feel like it’s better if there’s no wound, and the visuals don’t have to cure anything. It’s more interesting when the script is perfect, and you’re opening the wound with the images. It’s more interesting when the visuals are rebelling against the script.”
Vigalondo points to Rear Window as an example of perfect rebellion. On the page, it’s a story about a courtyard brimming with life, but Hitchcock chose to keep us walled off from the action. Conversations and events happen almost or completely out of our reach. With the camera and microphone staying inside Jimmy Stewart’s apartment, many moments feel far away, and we feel powerless.
For Open Windows, Vigalondo couldn’t work in his usual way. For one, the multiple moving parts ensured that he had to think of editing and directing from the very first word he typed. He could and did make changes during the shoot, but altering even one small thing meant a half dozen other things having to change as well. For two, those moving parts make the movie impossible to be experienced fully on the first pass.
“John Ford, when he made a movie, he had this notion that the movie would be, maybe once or twice, in front of your eyes,” Vigalondo explains. “It’s amazing if you consider that, when they watch a movie now, people might rewind or they’re going to fast-forward part of it. People will be able to watch it again and again. You’re forced to make movies that will survive the second viewing. Maybe the most risky thing of Open Windows is that the movie is so aware of the second viewing, the third viewing, that maybe the first viewing becomes this experience in which you’re forced to lose some stuff on screen. It’s impossible to get the whole thing. You can be intrigued, but somehow the movie is like the real internet. It’s happening in front of your eyes, everything is happening independently, and you just get some pieces. Making the thing was really complex.”
Now that complexity expands to how the film can be read in a post-Fappening world. Much of the mad hacker’s dialogue feels pulled from Gamergate message boards. It’s about exploitation and entitlement ‐ the idea that, as a fan, the person he worships should also be a sacrifice on the altar of his desires. Wood’s character, representing a saner version of fandom, is a complicit and often active agent in causing Jill’s pain. In the most difficult scene, she’s forced to strip (and Wood’s character is forced to force her to strip) or be killed. It plays out slowly, but the indignity doesn’t come with the private show, but with the following threat that the hacker will release an edited version of the video online.
Among many other strident and applause-worthy statements, Jennifer Lawrence responded to the leak of her photos by telling the thieves and those that sought out the images to feel shame for their unequivocal violation. That scene in Open Windows achieves something similar, even if Vigalondo never intended it to. Then, in true Nacho style, it gets back to being goofy.