In our culture of laptops, iPhones, tablets, and every other piece of technology we rely on, horror movies are going increasingly digital, as is the case with the new psychological thrille Ratter. As the directorial debut of Branden Kramer, the film voyeuristically follows a college-aged girl through the eyes of a stalker, who has hacked into all of her electronic devices. The whole movie is filmed through the camera of these devices, including her iPhone, laptop, and gaming console.
Emma (Ashley Benson) has just moved from her hometown in Wisconsin to an absurdly nice and spacious one-bedroom apartment in New York City for college, where she meets Michael (Matt McGorry), whom she begins dating, and Nicole (Rebecca Naomi Jones), her unfiltered but caring close friend. Viewers become aware early on that Emma is being watched through her devices—the film zooms and rewinds in a telling fashion—but Emma herself doesn’t fully realize what’s happening until the latter half of the movie. Soon, viewers begin seeing the shadowy figure of the stalker in person, skulking around Emma’s apartment while she sleeps.
Ratter definitely delivers an effective paranoia creep-factor towards the end, but first, the audience has to get through about 45 minutes of just watching Ashley Benson cook eggs, shave her legs, and dance in her living room. Unsurprisingly, this movie began as a short film called Webcam in 2012. Now, Kramer managed to stretch it to an 80 minutes that feels closer to two hours.
It’s not until the stalker starts upping the stakes towards the end that the story actually starts moving forward. Ratter opts for a subtle creepiness that is very effective, rather than turning Benson into a scream queen (save for the climactic final scene). When we begin to see shadows of the stalker appear in the background of Emma’s apartment while she sleeps, the effect is truly chilling.
While the disturbing techno-horror in Ratter does build over the course of the movie, it’s impossible not to compare it to other horror movies filmed through webcams and iPhones, a recently growing trend, it seems. Ratter is a movie clearly obsessed with its own concept, which it would have a right to be if it was a concept that had never been seen before. But alas, we already have films like The Collingsworth Story (2006), Open Windows (2014), and notably, Unfriended (2014). That’s not to say Ratter doesn’t execute the genre well. Fans of more subtle thrillers will appreciate its looming approach to danger much more than Unfriended‘s scream-a-minute gore — but it isn’t adding much to an already familiar concept. C+