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I threw the dice on "Browse" as I didn't see many reviews about it, but it had a premise that looked very intriguing, even though the trailer isn't great. After I'd finished it, I was pleasantly surprised that it was a Mike Testin project. I really didn't care for his debut feature "Dementia", finding it rather obvious and one-dimensional, though technically well-made.
"Browse" is a far-cry from "Dementia" in every conceivable way --- it's multi-layered, dark, not as plot-driven, but with an escalating degree of paranoia and discomfort. It's not a movie where you can anticipate where it goes. If you like to be disturbed and made uneasy by plausible it-could-happen-to-you horror, this is your movie.
Lukas Haas (looking a million miles away from the doe-eyed Amish boy of "Witness") is a bedraggled forty-something middle-manager at a kind of non-profit in LA, and from the start, Testin tells us in subtle and vivid detail that this is a guy who has willingly put his life on Pause following a devastating pre-matrimonial break-up (the montage of his ex that occurs about 25 minutes in is cold and eerie in a melancholy way that feels just right --- it's like drowning in a bathtub of curdled chocolate). Richard (Haas) lives in an apartment building downtown that looks like an abandoned Comfort Inn, uses rented furniture (in plastic, no less), and has on-call sex with a blonde upstairs who has little or no interest in him beyond his ability to perform.
Even though he has the appearance of an aging slacker, Richard indulges in the latest digital devices in a passive, almost sterile way. He has an Alexa-type hub in his home that virtually all of his communications pass through (never a good idea), and when he's not trolling online-dating sites (which as we know, resemble point-and-click Home Shopping Networks even more than they did ten years ago), he's lost in his Wifi-attached VR goggles, trying to find some escape, any release from his self-made prison. It's a cautionary tale for anyone who hangs their livelihood on Silicon Valley tech without really understanding the underpinnings of such a dependency.
Soon, his bank accounts get hacked, he's accused of stalking a woman who seems to have made overtures in return, he's fired from his job, and a gun is sent to him anonymously. This last aspect harks back to Polanski's The Tenant, and while it aids in making Richard's descent into panic and depression interesting, it doesn't hold the gravitas of Polanski's effort --- and I don't think it's supposed to.
While Browse is a mystery, it's one without any explicit solution, so if you're wondering why it's rated so low on iMDB, I'd chalk it up to that. But as a timely comment and mesmeric journey into digital nihilism, I've never seen anything quite like it. And as before with Dementia, as a film, there is little or nothing "wrong" with it. Acting, pacing, editing, photography are all above average. It cultivates a claustrophobic sense of urban despair I haven't seen since James Merendino's underground classic "The Upstairs Neighbor" (1994), which badly needs to be bought by someone and redistributed. It even has the forlorn, noirish trumpet-laden score, courtesy of Makaya McCraven.
If you don't need a film to provide cozy closure for you, "Browse" is a definitely worth the download.
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