A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this violent thriller features several long, disturbing scenes of torture -- bodies are bloodied, burned, dissolved in acid, and nearly decapitated by whirling blades. Other upsetting scenes feature Tasering, shooting, and a threat against a young girl, as well as plenty of images of dead bodies. All of this is framed within an argument against easy access to images of violence and abuse via the Internet, but that doesn't make it any less disturbing. Language includes repeated uses of "f--k" and other profanity.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In UNTRACEABLE, a serial killer protests the easy availability of violent and exploitative media imagery by -- ironically -- setting up a Web site where people can watch victims suffering; the more visitors the site has, the worse the torture gets. Despite the fact that his work is tediously visible, he remains elusive: It's up to the Portland-based federal cybercrimes unit to locate this villain before he strikes again. At the center of the investigation is confident, righteous, intuitive agent Jennifer Marsh (Diane Lane). Once the killer discovers that she's on his trail, he targets not only her and her family, but also her best friend/work partner, Griffin (Colin Hanks). Sadly, the cop who means to help her, Detective Box (Billy Burke), is astoundingly inept.
Is it any good?
Even if you take the film's moral lesson at face value, the overkill is discouraging, and not very instructive. With Marsh at the center of the action, there's a lot of focus on Lane's performance. She's certainly up to it -- particularly as Marsh's personal relationships are put at risk, and she becomes increasingly vulnerable in conversations with friends and family -- but the film depends on repetitive reaction shots as she and others gaze on grisly scenes, with viewers invited to gaze along with them. The movie essentially implicates its own audience in the commercialization and mass mediation of violence.
In fact, by the time the killer articulates his outrage against easy access to violent images, the rest of us have long since figured out that his strategy is faulty. He's trying to teach users that watching the abuse and murder of people they don't know is wrong and cruel -- but his own means are excessively cruel and don't teach anyone anything. Instead, the viewers he invites to his Web site -- where victims are set up in diabolical contraptions that increase their suffering as more users log on -- are just made culpable in the abuse.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the arguments for and against policing content on the Internet. How can you keep children safe from certain sites and users without unnecessarily censoring what adults can see? Should someone be in charge of what is and isn't OK to put online? If so, who? For tips on staying safe and smart online, try our guide.
- In theaters: January 24, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: May 12, 2008
- Cast: Billy Burke, Colin Hanks, Diane Lane
- Director: Gregory Hoblit
- Studio: Screen Gems
- Genre: Thriller
- Run time: 96 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: grisly violence and torture, and some language.
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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