SXSW 2014 Review: ‘Open Windows’ Gets In Its Own Way

By  · Published on March 12th, 2014

2007’s Timecrimes is a sharp time travel film that makes you believe the unbelievable in a movie with an impossible concept. Unfortunately, Nacho Vigilando fails to capture that same magic with his latest film, Open Windows. It’s a mixed bag that shows promise at the start before fizzling out in the last 30 minutes. Its technique is ambitious, but the final result is not.

Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) is visiting Austin to meet his favorite actress, Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). She’s in town for Fantastic Fest to promote a comically terrible-looking cheap sci-fi sequel. Based on the clip, Jill is the kind of bad actress who still has her fans, including Nick, who runs a fansite for her. He was flown down to Austin to have dinner with Jill for an interview, but it’s unexpectedly cancelled by a mysterious figure (Neil Maskell). Since that figure’s voice is an English accent, you know something’s wrong from the start.

The film does not try to conceal that turn. It’s upfront about what’s about to happen and it runs through the set up without any problems, but it’s once that Englishman has Nick roaming Austin trying to save Jill that Open Windows goes awry. After Nick is given full access to Jill’s phone and webcam monitor to watch her, he’s forced to ask her to do unspeakable things or risk being kidnapped and killed.

It all starts off firmly tongue-in-cheek and is front loaded with jokes poking fun at Nick’s ridiculous situation, but Vigalondo’s script soon loses its self-awareness and takes a turn for the worse. Tonally the movie takes a 180-degree turn that’s not earned at all. There’s no natural buildup, and instead the film suddenly becomes a different, and lesser, movie.

Nick very suddenly loses his nerdy everyman quality, but issues of believability are overshadowed by ones of plausibility and consistency. Nick isn’t the Nick we met in the first act, and the third act doesn’t sell him as an everyday hero. Even the movie’s pace is thrown off balance in the finale, and nearly every line of dialogue turns to exposition.

It’s none of the key actors’ faults. Instead it’s the material that fails them in the end. Wood and Grey take each predicament and gag as seriously as they should, but their straight-faced performances can’t survive the third act, which asks an audience to suspend far too much disbelief.

One would think the film’s POV from Nick’s computer would be the biggest problem with Open Windows. For the most part, it’s a clever approach. There are a few scenes, like a car chase for example, where the suspense could’ve been amped up if we weren’t watching it from a computer screen. Only every so often does that style hinder the film. In the end, it’s the script that crushes Open Windows’ initial goodwill.

The Upside: A promising start; a sense of humor about itself; Neil Maskell does good impersonations

The Downside: The third act goes downhill; the style undercuts the tension at times; the tonal shift is jarring and unconvincing

On The Side: The film was shot with a camera rigged up to a laptop.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.