Directed by Bobby Boermans
Horror is nothing if not inventive, and the new Dutch picture App proves that. Before screening this film, potential viewers are encouraged to download an actual app to their cell phones which ties their mobile devices into the action on the screen. This is the very first time you’ll ever be asked to turn your cell phone on before a movie begins. This is the beauty of horror: inventiveness. You’ll never see a romantic comedy doing this.
Second screen technology is already being used in television. Shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Face Off” use the format on a weekly basis. However, this is a unique addition to a feature film. Some might call it gimmicky, and to some extent it is. But the key here is the movie itself has to be good enough to hold the viewer’s attention and let the second screen addition enhance the viewing experience not rely on it. App manages to do that.
After you install the app to your phone (its name is Iris, by the way), App tells the story of Anna, a psychology student who has her life completely upended by a malevolent personal assistant app (evil Siri!) that mysteriously appears on her phone after she attends a party. As things get progressively worse for Anna, the viewer is drawn into a cool mystery as to just what “Iris” is, where it came from and why Anna is being victimized.
Initially quite helpful to Anna, Iris quickly begins to tear her life apart. As Iris becomes more powerful, the action in App does get to be a bit unbelievable. Iris has amazing powers to control everything. Machines begin to react seemingly on their own, Maximum Overdrive style, while under Iris’ control. The saving grace is that although this seemingly limitless power is somewhat of a stretch plotwise, it does work within the story with a bit of suspension of disbelief. App takes this wild pretense and manages to create a somewhat realistic story out of it.
As the movie rolls on, the viewers’ own personal Iris apps continue to react, revealing text messages between characters not shown onscreen, video clips, different characters’ points of view on the scene you’re currently watching on the movie screen and other valuable pieces of information. The Iris app provides loads of foreshadowing to events that will occur in the movie just moments later. The two-screen experience does indeed enhance the viewing of App just enough without becoming overwhelming and distracting. Although the feature film is still the thing to focus on, I found myself eagerly anticipating the next buzz from my cell phone and interesting little fact I would be receiving. Director Bobby Boermans also did a nice job in manipulating the scenes with the second screen content in such a way that viewers would not miss anything on the big screen while briefly checking their small ones. Quite masterfully done, actually.
Aside from the fun of Iris, App needed a human face to it as well, and Hannah Hoekstra provides a lovely one in her portrayal of Anna. Much like another recent film, The Den, where the entire picture is shot on webcams and basically all the scenes revolve around one character, App also needed a strong actress to carry the lead role and sell it to the audience. Hoekstra is a great blend of strength and beauty and pulls off the part nicely.
App is a decent film on its own and a fun, unique experience when adding in the second screen. It’s something viewers may find amusing or annoying, depending on personal preference for sure. I was entertained thoroughly and thought the gimmick helped make a movie that might have blended in with other technological horror films stand out from the crowd. And the scariest part? At some point, when the movie is over and you’ve returned to your regularly scheduled life already in progress, you’re going to look at your phone and see that creepy Iris app icon staring back up at you. Better delete it while you still can.
3 1/2 out of 5