I-Lived online movie review - An app-titude for murder
The opening shot is a pair of vacant eyes and the sound of flatlining. Except Franck Khalfoun's follow-up to Maniac isn't some desperately moody and morose slow-burn horror, but a swift, darkly comic psychological thriller with ultra-modern themes.
Khalfoun is writer, editor, producer and director, and his control of the material shows ? up to a point, anyway.
i-Lived itself is a fictional app designed to help you achieve your life goals. Type in your ambition, and then follow the instructions that the app churns out. It gets into the hands of Josh (Jeremiah Watkins), a tech vlogger who's trying to get his app review show off the ground. His videos are convincingly abrasive, and packed with amusing narrative references which appear goofy but are loaded with relevance ("Are you proud of me, Dad?" He's really not). Josh is shy and awkward IRL but he's confident on camera.
When Josh aspires to woo a girl named Greta (Sarah Power), the app advises he learn to cook, dance, read poetry etc. The strongest section of the story is when we watch Josh attempting to manufacture this perfect personality for himself, in order to appeal to his prey. It plays into the solipsistic fantasy that modern technology can evoke. But then the app starts instructing him to perform more sinister, criminal acts. Is Josh a pawn in someone else's sick game? Or is his bona fide shadow side being given an outlet through this virtual observer?
The first half of the film contains many thought-provoking ideas. There's something here about the way it is practically possible nowadays to Google-whack our way to social approval. Also, there are themes about online identity: One way to retain and increase popularity, for example, is through increasingly extreme content.
It's when Khalfoun segues into horror that his grip on the high concept starts to loosen. Visually the ideas are still there, and there are some half decent sub-Lynchian dream-states. But Khalfoun's attempts at melding fantasy and reality ? thus supposedly drawing us into Josh's mental decline ? come across as annoyingly muddled more than devilishly ambiguous.
Josh himself is well played by Watkins, who in his gawkiness and intensity reminds me of a younger Adrien Brody. It's a classic case of a lead character whom we may not like as such but with whom we can empathise, and a large part of this is thanks to Watkins' performance, which has nuance and range.
I was slightly disappointed by the visualisation of the app itself. For something so supposedly cutting edge it looks distinctly cheap and 2000s. Which brings me to a unique added "bonus": You can actually download the i-Lived app to your smartphone, which pings you pop-ups throughout the film. It's an idea which is both neat and alarming; a gimmick specific to this film, one hopes, rather than the future of movie-watching.
Perhaps you may feel that i-Lived is worth it simply for this innovative feature. But aside from that, it's a solidly entertaining movie which manages to be both very relevant (in its subject matter) whilst also niche (in its structure and style). Its black humour may not be for everyone, and the drift into surrealism definitely won't be for everyone. But as far as the tech-horror movement goes, it's a fine entry into the canon.