As the first second screen “horror” film, Bobby Boermans’ APP dares to ask you to not only keep your cell phone ON during its entire running time, it wants you to download an app just for the purposes of getting the most out of the wild ride it sends you on for a very brisk 75 minutes.
However, if the very idea of having a phone buzzing away a few times on your lap as you watch a film outrages you to no end, you can watch the film without a phone and still enjoy it quite thoroughly. It’s certainly worth seeing this one both ways (which I did for the purposes of this review) as the phone-enabled parts are cleverly crafted to not distract from the film at all, giving you enough time to glance down then back up without missing anything important.
The plot concerns Anna (Hanna Hoekstra), a university student who after attending a wild party, wakes up with a new app called IRIS installed on her phone. Initially quite helpful, the app soon becomes the bane of poor Anna’s existence as it refuses to be uninstalled or deleted and soon turns into a pretty nasty piece of malware. No matter what she tries, this killer app just won’t let up as it even resorts to committing a few murders as the film progresses. There’s a reason IRIS is on Anna’s phone and it’s hard not to figure out WHO put it there if you’re paying attention. The WHY on the other hand? Well, it just may stretch your suspension of disbelief a tiny bit, but at least the film never takes itself so seriously that you’ll be rolling your eyes when the “bad” guys pop up and that secret is revealed.
Actually, IRIS happens to have a pretty warped sense of humor in her small killing spree, spewing out one-liners on Anna’s phone screen post-kill that are good for a light chuckle. The suspense in the film comes from Anna trying to remove the app, IRIS choosing victims and going at them in a few ways, and two chase scenes that add a bit of action to the mix. Anna’s younger brother is a key plot device, as he’s in the process of rehabilitation from a bad accident that left him partially paralyzed. IRIS of course knows everything about Anna’s life, so both he and Anna’s best friend/roommate, Sophie (Isis Cabolet) are threatened by the evil, sentient Siri gone far off the deep end.
As the film zips along to its ending, you can see Boermans clearly has some directorial chops and knows how to pace his actors and place the camera. One small problem with the film is it ends up being a wee bit TOO compact, keeping the body count fairly low (Spoiler: IRIS doesn’t do all the killing here) and wrapping things up with what looks like the promise of a follow up at some point. As noted, the phone gimmick works wonderfully and isn’t overused at all, enhancing certain scenes with extra information, picking up remote cameras pointed at Anna and other actors and briefly showing off scenes from alternate perspectives. I can only imaging the inevitable American remake or rip-offs coming down the road that go the overkill route, adding more kills and definitely a lot more nudity. There’s a tiny bit here, but it’s paradoxically not exploitative yet IRIS uses it in that very manner when she tries to stop Anna from getting her phone looked at by a shop clerk.
While it’s not a “perfect” horror flick, there’s enough cool stuff and light scares here to bet that that this one finds an audience among horror and thriller fans craving something different than the usual slasher flick. You have to have nothing but respect for a film that turns the whole helpful AI assistant thing even further on it’s ear. IRIS definitely needs to make a comeback at some point down the road, preferably with the original director at the helm and perhaps a more international cast getting whittled down by the meanest freebie download ever programmed. Oh, by the way – that app you’ve just downloaded to your phone to watch this? Harmless as a de-clawed house cat passed out after rolling in some catnip.