When I think of David Schwimmer I think of goofy Ross from Friends. What doesn’t spring to mind is a harrowing film about online sex predators and the families whose lives they ruin. Yet this is the subject which Schwimmer has chosen for his second venture in the director’s chair and, I must say, it blew me away.
The film follows 14-year-old Annie (Liberato) and her online friendship with a “boy” called Charlie. Their constant messages back and forth pop up on screen in pink and blue respectively, a simple technique that adds a sense of familiarity for the audience which is also tinged with menacing uneasiness. Annie sees Charlie as a boyfriend she can trust. She could not be more wrong. Eventually he persuades her to meet him, persuades her that his advanced age isn’t a problem, persuades her to come with him to a motel, to put on lingerie...
Charlie (Coffey) oozes slime from his smiling face while Annie is torn between uncertainty and trust. The rape scene makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing. It pulls no punches in dealing with a problem that few films would dare cover but is a hideous truth in today’s technological society. However, this is only half of what this film is about. In the aftermath of the rape there is no clichéd coming together in the family. It almost tears them apart. Their reactions differ enormously, revealed in poignant moments with psychiatrist, Gail (Davis). Annie’s conviction that Charlie loves her, that she’s betrayed him by telling people what happened, is difficult to stomach and painfully real. Her eventual realisation that she has been raped is one of the most powerful scenes I have seen.
The feelings of her father Will (Owen), are equally gut wrenching and hit right at the heart of what it is to be father. He obsesses about Charlie, filled with rage, guilt and impotence in the face of a fruitless FBI investigation. My female friend found it hard to understand Will’s violent actions, his relentless hunt for the rapist and inability to comfort his daughter as the mother (Keener) does. But watching Will as he struggles to come to terms with what he perceives as his failure to protect his daughter from this danger I saw fundamental truths in the male psyche, in the paternal role and its frailties. He can’t protect her from everything and that brutal realisation of his powerlessnes almost destroys him and his family.
This is an important film that will make you shudder and weep but also think. It has no easy resolution at the end, just a terrifying glimpse into a sickening world and the pain and suffering it causes.