If I had to sum Untraceable up in two words, I’d probably say “missed opportunity.” It is a movie that makes one consistently think about why it should be better.
What’s wrong with it? Unfortunately, Untraceable tries to be a smart thriller without really putting in the work that smart thrillers require. It wants to be impressive, but it doesn’t ever impress. It wants to comment on society, but it doesn’t have anything to say. Overall, it just feels very dull.But even with all of that riding against it, Untraceable isn’t un-watchable. Sure, it’s mediocre to the core, but there are worse ways you could spend a rainy Saturday afternoon—and that’s the attitude you need to keep in mind if you ever plan on seeing it.
The story is where the film gets some points. Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane) works for the FBI by tracking down wrongdoers on the internet. Work seems pleasant and rewarding until she comes across an untraceable site that streams live video of people being tortured and killed. The twist is that the more people that visit the site, the faster the torture is applied and the closer to death the victim becomes. With every second counting, it is up to Marsh and her team to use what few leads they have to track and stop the killer.
This is a basic premise that could go places if you have the right people behind it. Or rather, right person: Oscar nominee Diane Lane plays the lead, and gives a perfectly acceptable performance, but she still cannot dispel the feeling that the movie plays more like a weekly TV drama. The direction is likely to be blamed for that TV feel. In fact, director Gregory Hoblit has won nine primetime Emmys, so he is probably very familiar with how TV shows should be. In the case of Untraceable, though, he should have opted for a more cinematic approach. No scene is ever given much depth or time to unfold.
To be fair, the depth is not entirely in the hands of the director. The three writers behind the screenplay didn’t give him too much to work with. The film quickly falls into a cycle of someone getting caught by the killer, then being tortured and killed, then the police grasping at straws, then repeating the cycle. It is as though the writers were confident enough that their concept could carry a story that really has no meat. The film wants to be a new Silence of the Lambs, but it doesn’t have the same characterization, complexity or atmosphere.
So why are there two stars instead of just five empty ones? So far, I haven’t said anything positive, and yet I would give Untraceable 2.5 stars if I could. The biggest problem with Untraceable is also its saving grace: the film is merely competent. All the problems listed above mainly stem from missed opportunities. Characterization is foregone. The scenes are rushed. The story is thin. And the commentary on why society continues to watch and kill for entertainment is surprisingly minimal and somehow glazed over. Yet the way it is, Untraceable still kind of works. It’s disappointing to think of how it could have been something, but as a typical suspense drama, it holds its own.
If you’re expecting the next great serial killer suspense drama, don’t bother with Untraceable. If instead you are looking for the next Saw-esque movie but are no longer in high school, this just might be for you.