Strangers Online (2009)

Description (from strangersonline.com):
Haunted by the mysterious murder of his fiance 4 years earlier, Hollis Parker (Noel Palomaria) hosts a stimulating, late-night, internet/web radio program called Strangers Online, along with his co-host Mike (Joaquin Garay III). The sexy, irreverent show features everything from exhibitionists and wanna-be lesbians to desperate, masked cross-dressers and misfit miscreants.  Meanwhile, Karen (Tara Killian), an overly infatuated new intern at the station decides she should be with Parker, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Laura (Eva Frajko). When Parker decides to propose to Laura, Karen’s obsession with him explodes. She will stop at nothing to become his new bride.  In the shocking, tragic final act, all the dark secrets of the past come out, and someone dies – live – on the internet.

Major Cast:
Noel Palomaria as Hollace Parker, Tara Killian as Karen, Eva Frajko as Laura, Joaquin Garay III as Mike, Michael Waite as Zeke, Nansi Aluka as Jenny, Monique T. Parent as Dr. Bowen

Special Features:
None (Screener Copy)

Written by Dan Acre, John Huckert, John Matkowsky
Directed by John Huckert

The press info for STRANGERS ONLINE says that it is a “dark, erotic thriller” that is “in the vein of BLUE VELVET and BODY OF EVIDENCE.”  I will freely admit that I’ve never seen BODY OF EVIDENCE, but I have seen BLUE VELVET… and STRANGERS ONLINE is no BLUE VELVET.

The film opens with shots of people talking on their webcams – strangers, online – and fans of the Internet radio show “Strangers Online” that is the center of the film.  Hollis Parker hosts a show about exhibitionism, sexual deviance, violent misogyny, and all of those other things that people love about the internet.  He also has his own dark past, as his fiancée was murdered, and he has no recollection of what happened; he does not know if he tried to prevent the murder, or if he could even have been the murderer.  The story revolves around Hollis, his new beau, and the psycho intern now working at KSIN (the internet radio station).

Right from the beginning STRANGERS ONLINE shows its low-budget hand, as during the opening credits (and other times throughout the film) it is obvious that the movie was shot in “fake” widescreen; the aspect ratio keeps changing.  The video quality also gives it away, as it has a very “porn” quality to it.  This is kind of appropriate, because as I watched the film I got more and more of an impression that STRANGERS ONLINE was more of a softcore porn than an “erotic thriller.” STRANGERS ONLINE occupied this weird space between softcore and mainstream film; there was too much (and too gratuitous) nudity / sex to really feel mainstream, but not enough to really feel like a full-fledged softcore porn.

In order for a movie to be a “thriller,” I need to be thrilled, at least once.  Or surprised.  Or at the very least, it needs to catch my attention and throw a few twists in the way of the plot that I didn’t see coming. STRANGERS ONLINE did none of these things for me.  I figured out who killed Hollis’ wife very early in the film, I figured out who was the “bad guy” right away, and there just wasn’t any one thing that really thrilled me.  By 45 minutes into the film I was getting really bored, and if it weren’t for the fact that I was reviewing STRANGERS ONLINE I probably would have given up on it by then, if not earlier.  Towards the end of the film it picks up a little, but not much.

I don’t want this to come off as all bad; there were some good things about STRANGERS ONLINE.  The production design was one of the highlights.  There were some very nice locations, especially Zeke’s shack and Hollis’ house (but there is a con here too: I just could not believe that being an internet radio host could pay well enough to buy Hollis that house, and there is not any other source of income ever hinted at).  I did enjoy the fact that this wasn’t a low-budget film that is limited to one location, and the locations were not just redressed versions of the same place.  The other strong part of STRANGERS ONLINE was the editing.  There are multiple well-done match cuts, and overall the editing is more than sufficient (though I didn’t care for the recurring motif of “this is the end of the scene, and now we fade to black” very much, to me this also brought me back to that low-budget porn feel).  The music is well suited to the film, and the editing is matched well to the music.  Also, the acting was strong throughout.  The leads all were very good in their roles, and I especially liked “Zeke,” but stuttering, creepy voyeur characters are always fun.

Overall, I just could not get into STRANGERS ONLINE.  It was a thriller that held no thrills for me.  I spent more of the movie questioning odd bits on screen (e.g. “who uses a plastic bag and suffocates someone in self-defense?” “how the hell does Hollis have no idea if he had anything to do with his ex’s murder, and there is no mention of any legal proceedings / ramifications?” etc.) and wondering when it was going to quit pussyfooting around and jump into full-on porn mode.  A “dark, erotic thriller” says STRANGERS ONLINE.  Dark? Sure, both figuratively (as it does deal with murder and obsession and whatnot) and literally (as the lighting could use some work).  Erotic? Yup, it’s got that; there’s plenty of nudity (often without cause, like Hollis’ girlfriend hanging out in the Jacuzzi, nekkid, for no discernable reason) and simulated sex to be seen.  Thriller?  That one’s a misnomer for me; I was far from thrilled.

Overall 3 / 10

STRANGERS ONLINE on the IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0804536/

STRANGERS ONLINE for sale: http://www.shop.breakingglasspictures.com/Strangers-Online-853937002681.htm

STRANGERS ONLINE site: http://www.strangersonline.com

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