Ratter (2015)

Longer version of piece published by Sight & Sound as part of coverage of the Cult programme at the London Film Festival 2015

The masked killer and the point-of-view shot have long been staples of the slasher, uncomfortably allying the viewer’s identity and perspective to those of the film’s antagonist – yet in  Branden Kramer’s feature debut Ratter these tired old tropes are updated to the digital present. For as Emma (Ashley Benson) moves into a New York apartment to begin her graduate studies and distance herself from a controlling ex back in Wisconsin, her every intimate move is being watched by someone whose eyes are the hacked webcams in her computer, smart phone and games console, and whose mask is the anonymity of the internet itself. As this predatory figure messes with Emma’s life and circles ever closer to her non-virtual world, the film’s visuals are restricted to the ‘windows’ that Emma has inadvertently left open on her supposed privacy.

This is without question an unsettling premise, tapping straight into some very 21st-century anxieties – but those have already been addressed in a very similar manner in The Collingswood Story (2002), The Den (2013), Open Windows (2014), and Unfriended (2014), all cyber thrillers which play on viewers’ unease over the ghost in the machine. In fact Ratter is an expansion of Kramer’s short film Webcam (2012) which preceded most of those other titles – but even at a mere 80 minutes, this feature feels padded and overlong – and the ingenious way that the writer/director contrives to stage events before Emma’s various devices also sadly palls through repetition. In short, needs more slashing.

Anton Bitel