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App | DVD Review

App DVD CoverReceiving a healthy domestic release in native Netherlands and released stateside by RAM Releasing last May, with limited festival play before it (it did show at the neighboring Razor Reel Fantastic Film Festival Bruges) this is a film that will indubitably be remembered as a quaint first-wave exercise in an increased integration of modern technology and cinematic streamlining as a way to increase audience participation. Dutch filmmaker Bobby Boerman’s sophomore film, App, is presented as little more than any number of dressed up J-horror narratives. That’s not to say there isn’t any fun to be had in what serves as the first film to utilize second screen technology, but it’s cheap and shallow fun, to be sure. The rather superficial mystery at the heart of the narrative takes a considerable back seat to the excitement of messages you may receive on your cell phone from the film’s app, tuned to receive audio cues as the film plays and display extra content that those without the app are unable to see. Fine and dandy, but there’s something already resoundingly rudimentary about the exercise.

After checking her voicemail, a beautiful young blonde steps in front of a train for reasons that are not immediately apparent. Without further ado, we’re jettisoned into the midst of happy-go-lucky Anna’s (Hannah Hoekstra) pleasant existence as a psychology student who focuses more on partying with best friend, Sophie (Isis Cabolet), than she does her studies. But Anna also has more serious problems as she’s the only family member available to look after her paraplegic brother, Stijn (Alex Hendrickx), who is about to undergo an experimental surgery where a chip will be installed in his spine that will, essentially, communicate with his lower limbs so that he may walk again. Anna is dubious about the procedure. Meanwhile, at a party, she runs into an old high school beau, Tim (Robert de Hoog), and they flirt as they reconnect. The next day, Anna discovers that someone at the party downloaded a strange app on her phone called IRIS, which seems to be a search function not unlike Siri. But IRIS, at first a helpful tool with a creepy speaking face, begins to do despicable things, like sending harmful messages to her contact list. At first, this only compromises her friendship and reputation, but it seems that IRIS has more insidious intentions, spreading quickly as it infects any electronic devices that come within its range. Soon, Sophie is fighting for her life.

Well, William Castle would certainly be proud, that king of the gimmick flick, a flair that would eventually mutate into the event based cinema that now dominates Western mainstream film. The man known for seat buzzers (The Tingler), floating skeletons (House on Haunted Hill) and a fright break (Homicidal), among several other stunts, would certainly have harnessed the capabilities of advanced technology and the art of the cinema gimmick, for the second screen feature is as useless a frill as any of those vintage creations. Insidious texts between supporting characters, Facebook updates, and additional angles that look like B roll outtakes make up the majority of the second screen transmissions.

Robert Arthur Jansen’s script is adolescent, to say the least, featuring a subplot involving a closet case homosexual driven to mass murder and suicide upon being outed by IRIS, which may seem questionable given the Amsterdam setting (true, the character in question is a Russian immigrant that looks an awful lot like Hector Elizondo, but still). While the cast is mostly forgettable, lead Hannah Hoekstra has engaging screen presence, even if this is a laughable role for her considering a breakout performance in Sacha Polak’s 2012 debut, Hemel.

Disc Review

Curiously, RAM Releasing opted out of a Blu-ray release for the title that announces itself as the first second screen film. One still has to download the app (as indicated on the back of the DVD cover), which, depending on the amount of storage on your cell phone, could be problematic. Special features are slim, though director Bobby Boerman’s does have a director’s commentary option.

Special Effects Featurette:
A dialogue free montage nearly two and half minutes in length depicts some of the special effects that went into the making of the film, which appears to be a lot of green screen, with the malevolent app actually superimposed onto the visible cell phone shots in the film.

Final Thoughts

The overt references to French philosopher Rene Descartes seem teasingly placed to invite some kind of subtext, but once the obligatory motives of the villainous forces at work are revealed, all of that distracting fluff feels silly in retrospect. Still, as useless as the second screen technology is, albeit calibrated not to interrupt key moments of the film, some interesting ideas are at work, and its innovation makes for a fun cinematic experience. However, one can’t help but think that, like 3D technology, there really isn’t a necessity—it’s something that would be rather taxing were it a regular feature.

Film Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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