Troubled teen William (Aaron Johnson) strolls down a colourful corridor where each brightly swathed door offers something new: "Barely Legal" is engraved on one of them. William stops at one door and defaces it with spray-paint, spraying the slogan ‘Chelsea Teens!’ upon it. He then enters the empty room and takes a seat.

Shortly afterwards, young loner Jim (Matthew Beard) logs on to his laptop and is transported to the same corridor, which by now is bustling with a jovial crowd of mixed sexes and ages, all scurrying past each other in a race to enter different rooms. Jim brushes past the crowd with his pet goldfish in hand, and enters the room with ‘Chelsea Teens!’ on its door.

Moments later, the two boys are joined by Mo (Daniel Kaluuya), Eva (Imogen Poots) and Emily (Hannah Murray). This disparate group of youthful teenagers have been intrigued by William’s slogan. Although, he soon admits that he’s not yet sure what it means.

The corridor is, of course, a visual representation of the Internet. The room that William occupies and is subsequently visited by the others, is an online chatroom.

And so, the conversations that ensue in the room – illustrated as a largely empty space of warm red hues and lurid blue chairs where the group sit around in a close circle – strive to echo those of Internet chatrooms: friendly, flirty, excitable and, the longer they go on through consequent return visits on dates agreed by the group, revealed as being not altogether honest.

The main problem emerges as William, a boy disturbed by his own unhappy home life. Emily and Eva are the first to sense a bad feeling about him when he gatecrashes into the latter’s profile page (personified as another, particularly geeky, room)> He manages to charm his way round the initially suspicious girls ... for a while, at least.

But as the group continue to meet and chat some more, William’s motivations for bringing them together appear as increasingly dubious. And one especially lonesome, vulnerable member of the group soon becomes under real threat ...

Well, this could have been special. Directed by Hideo Nakata, who previously gave us the classic original versions of RING and DARK WATER, CHATROOM also holds the distinction of having been adapted for the screen by Enda Walsh (he also wrote the excellent HUNGER) from his own play.

Alas, CHATROOM is a film that flirts enticingly with surreal visual themes and an ostensibly disturbing concept, but never pushes for the tension or sense of threat that on paper it may imply.

The young cast are nice to look at but do little to make their fundamentally unsavoury characters sympathetic or even slightly interesting. Walsh’s script is partly to blame, never affording them the opportunity to explore themselves or reveal more than a bare minimum to the viewer. There’s no-one to care for, and uneven acting doesn’t help.

A familiar trait of films adapted from stage plays is also the tendency for the action to seem quite rooted, quite static. Nakata combats this the best he can with striking lighting set-ups and dream-like imagery during the set-piece scenes (William’s deterring of a paedophile visitor to his chatroom being one example). But, with an uneven pace that flits clumsily between chatroom scenarios and the mundanity of reality, he’s fighting a losing battle in his plight for cinematic dynamism. Again, the lifeless cast do little to help this matter.

The concept is timely; the implications of Walsh’s script (peer pressure; the obscuring of identity; the perils of online fraternising) are prescient. Production values are decent, and some of the more surreal moments do work well – especially aesthetically. Those are CHATROOM’s good points, along with Kenji Kawai’s disturbingly incessant score.

But the film never excels further than base drama. Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography steals the show – but even then, not enough to distract from the fact that the notion that your kids will end up raped or taking their own life if they’re allowed to dabble with the Internet, is one that only Daily Mail readers still recoil in surprised horror at. However factual this may be, it’s still a view that has very quickly become a cliché and as a result makes Nakata’s film seen quite naive.

CHATROOM is presented uncut in a sharp and clean 16x9 widescreen transfer. Colours are deliberately drab during the scenes of ‘reality’, whereas the colourful hues of the Internet are handsomely conveyed.

English audio is proffered in 2.0 and 5.1 mixes. Both are good, natural-sounding mixes – with the latter being the more robust, naturally. Optional English subtitles are easy to read, and an English ‘audio descriptive’ track is also provided.

The disc opens with a colourful animated main menu page. A static scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.

Extras sound great on paper but in reality amount to nothing more than a stream of bite-sized trivia and tomfoolery.

They start with a bunch of disappointingly short cast and crew interviews which cover just 12 minutes in total. The best of these are the 2-minute chats with Nakata (speaking in English) and Walsh. The cast members quizzed do a grand job of appearing staggeringly dumb.

For some strange reason, brief interviews with Beard and Poots are presented separately as additional bonus features. But these, too, are around 2 minutes each in length. They’re hardly illuminating as a result.

A behind-the-scenes segment could have offered more insight into the shoot, Walsh’s inspirations and – in particular – Nakata’s directorial methods. Unfortunately it’s only 10 minutes long and, despite some interesting on-set footage, is resultantly little more than B-roll fluff.

"What Is Chelsea Teens?" is an 82-second alternate take of no consequence.

"Enda Introduces The Characters" sees the screenwriter offering a "quick run-down of each character". The very first one that he explains, he admits to not understanding. Fucking hell. This extra is also very fleeting at 2 minutes in length.

A "Cast Diary" should have been fun but, again, is a brisk 2-minute rush of handheld "raw footage". It’s quite light and therefore makes for an easy watch, but is hardly revelatory stuff.

A shabbily edited-together fuck around from the set follows, under the guise of a "Cast Song". This manages to be tedious at just 69 seconds long.

"Pimp My Trailer" is another pointless ‘extra’, looking at Beard’s on-location trailer. At 1 minute in length, at least it too is brief.

"Stop Motion" promises to be an interesting and self-explanatory featurette. It achieves the second one, at least. But at only 72 seconds long – what really can it reveal about the art of stop motion animation?

Deleted Scenes are more relevant perhaps, but equally uninvolving. They do, however, provide the most substantial extra on the disc: 29 minutes of scenes, in fact.

CHATROOM is rather dated which is unexpected, given its director and the potential of the subject matter. The notion that the Internet preys on impressionable young people is old hat, and the visualisations of computer conversing are hardly original – it’s been done before, in everything from TRON to HACKERS and beyond.

Without a thrilling story to unravel either, CHATROOM really is a disappointing addition to Nakata’s impressive canon.

The DVD offers a decent presentation of the film in terms of audio and video, but that long list of extra features is deceptively trite in content too.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Revolver Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review