Films about serial killers always walk a fine line between using grisly violence to talk about the darker side of human nature, and exploiting bloodshed for entertainment. But it's the rare movie that ends up agreeing with the killer. In Untraceable, Diane Lane plays an investigator in the FBI's "cybercrimes" division, a hardworking single mom who spits out phrases like "back door Trojans" and "floating IPs" with persuasive authority. She's good at her job, but she's flummoxed by her latest case, involving a faceless killer with a gimmick: He puts his victims in front of a web-cam, rigged to devices that kill them at a pace determined by the number of hits the site gets. The more people watch, the faster the death. The killer wants to kill, but also wants to condemn the voyeurs who want to see death.
So does the movie. Taking some cues from the Saw series, director Gregory Hoblit lingers over the killer's elaborate deathtraps, then points a finger at the sadists who would want to look at anything so grisly. It's tough to swallow moralizing from a film that opens with a kitten slowly dying in a rat trap, and tougher still when the film isn't nearly compelling enough to make up for it.
Untraceable's cybercrime twist is virtually all that separates it from any number of by-the-book, Silence Of The Lambs-lite thrillers, and not always in a good way. The film presumes that its audience is terrified of all things Internet, a place where even an innocent computer game can hide a security-penetrating, potentially life-destroying program. (One wrong click, and you too could end up in a tank of sulfuric acid.) Suspense remains at a minimum. Not only does Untraceable unmask its initially hidden killer with little ceremony, it's the sort of film that telegraphs every new development. Early on, the camera lingers on a rotary tiller. Expect to see it again, whether you feel guilty for wanting to or not.