The latest entry in the found-footage subgenre, "The Den" centers on its eponymous Internet hangout where purveyors of snuff films lurk. Grad student Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalia), who has received a grant to research the chat network, soon witnesses some ghastly goings-on.
Writers Zachary Donohue (who also directs) and Lauren Thompson have seemingly recycled a 2010 "The Daily Show" segment about the Chatroulette website before giving an inspired nod to Nigerian scammers and then offering an underdeveloped reference to Russian roulette. Where is the National Security Agency when you need it?
To its credit, the film never succumbs to characters reciting aloud exchanges as they type (as in Nora Ephron's "You've Got Mail"), yet its online banter doesn't relate anything revelatory.
Like many found-footage films before it, "The Den" never entirely suspends disbelief. It doesn't satisfyingly account for how the characters are producing all the footage. False leads superfluously string the protagonist along; it feels as though the writers have padded the script rather than showed off their cleverness.
Ultimately, "The Den" only satiates the morbid curiosity of a select few. It never arrives at the sort of emblematic, grand statement on the snuff film industry made by "A Serbian Film," which was far more grisly, disturbing and all-around superior.
MPAA rating: R for bloody violence, terror, sexuality, graphic nudity and language.
Running time: 1 hour, 16 minutes.
Playing: At Downtown Independent, Los Angeles. Also on VOD.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times