Directed by Mike Testin
Written by Mario Carvalhal
Starring Lukas Haas, Jocelin Donahue, Sarah Rafferty, Chloe Bridges, Allison Dunbar, Bodhi Elfman, Ken Kirby, Scott Bailey, Luke Spencer Roberts, Matt Mercer, Kelly Polk, Bear Badeaux
BROWSE is less a horror film than it is a subtle, intimate, and noirish thriller focusing on one man’s mental breakdown. Lukas Haas whose voice hadn’t cracked the last time I saw him in a movie stars as a middle-aged man going through a very big crisis. As the film opens, Haas’ character Richard is played to be a quiet and lonely man, looking for someone to connect with on online dating apps. After making an online connection with a gal who lives across the alleyway, Richard thinks things are taking a turn for the better. But soon, Richard’s life begins to come apart at the seams as it appears someone has hacked into his computer, his bank accounts, and his phone. Is Richard the victim of hackers or is it all a product of Richard’s paranoia?
There’s a real 80’s-90’s era thriller vibe and had this film been made back then, I could see Billy Zane or Don Johnson in the lead role. The score is heavy on that sultry saxophone that was so prominent during that time. The smoggy LA skyline is as much a member of this cast as any of the other actors who are in and out of Richard’s life. All of this makes BROWSE feel like it would be something you might see late at night on Showtime back in the day. It’s pretty much nudity free, so it wouldn’t make it as a Skinemax flick, but it still has that sweaty and dirty kind of vibe those old thrillers had. Like many noir-ish films, Richard is in over his head with everyone from the cops to his boss to the dangerous dames he meets online out to get him. Fans of the old back and white noir films will recognize all of the best aspects of those crime thrillers of the past here in prevalence.
That said, this is a very intimate film focusing mainly on Haas who seems as up to the task in his middle age years as he was as a kid actor when last I saw him. Haas has grown up to look a little like what I would imagine the offspring of Vincent D’Onofrio and Mark Ruffalo would look like. He’s still a very fine actor and is able to carry the heavy themes of BROWSE all the way until the end. I really loved the way this film walks the line between being a conspiracy theory movie and a thriller about a deeply depressed man trying to find help. There are emotionally complex moments in BROWSE that all lay on the slumped shoulders of Haas’ low self-esteemed Richard. Haas plays his character to be pretty emotionally damaged, but occasionally gives him times to shine when interacting with his co-worker (Sarah Rafferty), so he isn’t a completely pitiful character. This gives the viewer a chance to root for Richard to somehow find a way out of the mess that has befallen him.
Having one’s identity stolen is a terrifying thing and a very real danger to anyone who regularly logs in and taps on these machines that seem to be so integral to our lives. BROWSE does a fantastic job of illustrating how fragile our stability really is. It serves as a wonderful metaphor of how fragile our human psyches are as well. I don’t want to ruin the end, but while it doesn’t have a textbook style ending, BROWSE does come to a conclusion that really is deeper than I was expecting. BROWSE is a film that takes some thinking to fully understand but has a lot to say about our reliance on online relationships to uplift our lives and how open we leave ourselves through our online footprint.
I really liked this film, though if you are looking for horror, this one really doesn’t deliver. It does capture a nice amount of paranoia though and illustrates a descent into utter despair quite beautifully. Haas really is outstanding as the whole film really does rely on him to carry it. And carry it he does. It is also great to see the always-breathtaking actress Jocelin Donahue in BROWSE as Richard’s ex-wife. She doesn’t get to say a lot, but she is ever present in Richard’s mind and functions more as a ghost from better times. BROWSE is a heady thriller that doesn’t shy away from the emotional angst. It isn’t the feel-good film of the year, but it is an extremely well made thriller.