What happens when a hacker gains access to a young woman’s laptop and all the programmes and cameras associated with her online presence? Not a great deal to be honest, according to Branden Kramer’s debut feature – a virtual remake of his video short Webcam of three years prior.
Emma (Pretty Little Liars’ Ashley Benson) has just relocated to New York after a breakup with her boyfriend Alex. Funded by her parents, she moves into a Brooklyn apartment and catches up with friend Nicole (Jones), before meeting potential boyfriend Mike (McGrory). So far so Friends – except that everything we see, we witness from the perspective of Emma’s laptop and mobile cameras. As such, we are being invited to identify with the stalker who has somehow got hold of Emma’s online persona – which might not be a major problem (Michael Powell infamously made the audience the perpetrator in Peeping Tom), but for Kramer’s insistence on verisimilitude at the expense of drama.
In order to make Ratter as “real” as possible, Kramer has sacrificed any attempt to make his film cinematic, not just forsaking the use of conventional camerawork in favour of pseudo found footage, but also forgoing much in the way of character development. By making Benson’s character a loner, ostensibly to have her on her own in her apartment throughout most of the film, Kramer has necessitated thinning out the personalities of the rest of the cast. When Emma describes her new man to Nicole as “funny”, you have to wonder if there was a take of their meeting that wasn’t used, as nobody in Ratter exhibits much in the way of either humour or individuality at any point, bar a short glimpse of Emma singing pop songs into her broom handle.
The issue is that it quickly becomes impossible to care whether Emma resolves her problem, whether Mike will make it safely to the end credits, or even whether the stalker himself gets caught or goes free. Indeed, without resorting to implicating the tutor, the ex-boyfriend, or even Mike or Nicole to any great degree, much of Ratter passes by without any kind of tension at all; there are a number of sequences of Emma baring flesh, almost always with a deal less salaciousness than you’d need to really start to think like the stalker is presumably supposed to be doing, so the last few minutes – as the film realises at last it needs to bring things to a head – come pretty much entirely out of nowhere.
Ratter is considerably more professionally made than many other films with similar plots, but much like its lead character, other than being rather pretty to look at, it’s basically an empty vessel.
Special Feature: deleted scenes
RATTER / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BRANDEN KRAMER / SCREENPLAY: BRANDEN KRAMER / STARRING: ASHLEY BENSON, MATT McGORRY, REBECCA NAOMI JONES / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW