Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Distorted Movie Poster Image
Rapid-fire disturbing images in paranoid thriller.
  • R
  • 2018
  • 87 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Paranoia rules the day in this thriller, especially when it comes to "smart" technology. But one of the key decisions is based on a trusting relationship.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters aren't fleshed out enough to qualify as role models. Female lead perseveres through a personal crisis to try to do what she thinks is right.


A person jumps off a roof to their death (the impact isn't shown, but the bloody result is), and a person is shot and killed with impressive accuracy (blood is shown on his shirt). The death of an infant/toddler by drowning is a plot element, but it's not explicitly shown. A small child is menaced with an axe. A person intentionally cuts her own hand. Rapid-fire, disturbing images of blood, etc., played at strobe speed many times during the film.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Psychotherapeutic drugs are a plot element. One character drinks something that looks like whiskey late at night. A genteel, grown-up party. No one overindulges.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Distorted is a thriller about a disturbed woman (Christina Ricci) who moves into a high-tech "smart building," only to suspect that the building may be manipulating her. There are two quick bursts of actual violence: death by suicide (jumping off a building, with the aftermath shown) and a fatal shooting (some blood). There's also implied peril to two small children, and the main character has suffered a terrible personal tragedy. Viewers will also see many strobe-speed flashes of bloody/disturbing images intended for brainwashing. Psychotherapeutic drugs are a plot element, and there's a bit of drinking, but neither the prescription meds nor the alcohol  is glamorized. John Cusack co-stars as a hacker who helps Ricci's character figure out what's going on.

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What's the story?

In DISTORTED, a disturbed woman named Lauren (Christina Ricci) and her husband, Russell (Brendan Fletcher), move into a high-tech "smart building" as part of Lauren's healing process following a personal tragedy. When she starts to suspect that sounds and images in the building may be manipulating her, she seeks out a hacker named Vernon (John Cusack) to unravel the mystery.

Is it any good?

This thriller owes obvious debts to movies like A Clockwork Orange, The Manchurian Candidate, and more, but all that borrowing yields little interest. Distorted has a promising premise: that near-future tech in our homes could someday control us. It aims for a '70s paranoia vibe, which could be fun. But style is heavily favored over substance here. The film is characterized by seemingly endless repetitions of strobe-speed flashes of images that are intended to be disturbing. It gets annoying, then borderline painful. And the central relationship is woefully underdeveloped, which makes the ending all but nonsensical.

There don't seem to be rules to the movie's world, and it has more questions than answers. Not much seems deeply thought out. You may find yourself put on guard right away when a fancy representative of the building mispronounces "feng shui," and it doesn't get more deeply researched from there (e.g., Lauren's disorder is described using antiquated terms). The acting, despite the presence of Ricci and Cusack, is unremarkable. Ultimately, director Rob King's cinematic assault on viewers includes overzealous sound design, nail-on-head overuse of the song "Beautiful Dreamer," and that off-putting strobe editing. A little would have gone a longer way and might have left more room to explore the characters' relationships.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the rapid-fire disturbing images in Distorted. What effect did they have on you? Would you classify this as a violent film? Was it scary?

  • Do you think the movie is trying to convey a message about technology and its potential dangers/pitfalls?

  • Lauren has a behavioral condition. Did you know what it was? Did the portrayal seem accurate to you? Was that how you would imagine those afflicted with that condition to behave? Is this how people with mental health concerns are usually depicted on-screen?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrills

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