The only online stranger Judge Daryl Loomis has ever spoken to was a Nigerian prince.
Sex and murder are just a click away.
Hollace Parker (Noel Palomaria) has had a rough time of it over the last couple of years. Just as he was about to ask his girlfriend to marry him, she was murdered in her bed. He blames himself for it and has awful nightmares but, luckily, he has the comfort of his new girlfriend, Laura (Eva Frajko, Sea of Dreams), and a great job hosting a popular online sex advice show called Strangers Online. Just when everything seems to be going smoothly, a new intern named Karen (Tara Killian, American Pie Presents: Band Camp) starts working at the studio. She's very pretty and seems nice, but Hollace quickly suspects that she is obsessed with him and pretty crazy. Can Hollace keep his life together, or will Karen destroy everything he's worked so hard to rebuild?
Maybe I've watched so many cheap, terrible indie "erotic thrillers" that my expectations are as low as they can get, but I actually kind of liked Strangers Online. Let's not confuse that with saying it's a good film, but it has its moments and, given what I'm used to, it deserves a little credit for getting some things right.
Like the Dr. Phil of sex fiends, Hollace takes all-comers, doling out bad advice to call-ins about their weird love lives. This lends itself to some humor and disgust as writer/director John Huckert can go to town in the filthiest regions of his brain. It's hard to tell what qualification Hollace has to give advice on these topics, since the character doesn't come across as overtly sexual or perverted, but he got the gig and, judging from his house, it pays pretty well. His smug attitude in front of the webcam is only a cover for his overwhelming guilt about his girlfriend's death. It was in the papers and he's something of a celebrity, so he keeps having to hear about it. It's always on his mind and only the support of his new girlfriend is keeping him from breaking down.
Cue the intern. If you've ever seen an erotic thriller before, you know the deal: crazy, obsessive, hot, and unwilling to take no for an answer. To her credit, she slow plays her desire for Hollace, who doesn't suspect a thing for a long time. Mostly, that's because he's an idiot, but he gets the picture when she starts to come on strong. She worms her way into his personal life and acquires blackmail-ready materials to get her way. So we go to the final confrontation, where secrets will be revealed and people will die, all in front of the webcam for everyone to see.
There's nothing remotely novel about Strangers Online, but it follows the path forged long ago by Shannon Tweed movies. It's a formula that works and and Huckert does it pretty well, especially for how cheap the movie is. There's enough blood and sex to live up to its erotic thriller billing, and he builds a little suspense here and there. The characters work in their roles, from Hollace's doofus obliviousness to Laura's kindness that hides a secret to the weirdness of surveillance perv Zeke (Michael Waite, Dinocroc), they all make pretty good sense and the performances are effective enough, though not at all great. Huckert gets a lot of mileage out of only a few sets and the editing, both adding to the tension and obscuring the film's overall cheapness, is actually pretty accomplished.
The disc, however, is not so accomplished. We received a screener from Breaking Glass, so the final product could conceivably change. I hope it does, because this disc is terrible. The transfer is non-anamorphic and looks bad, but it's nothing compared to the sound mix, which is one of the worst I've ever heard. There are moments so quiet that I had to get right up to the speaker to hear what people said, only to be then blasted by a shrill sound explosion in the next moment. No film should get released with a mix so poor. No extras, but that's to be expected.
It's possible that, with expectations greater than zero, I would have hated Strangers Online, but it worked for me and I could very likely watch it again and enjoy myself.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Breaking Glass
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