Blu-ray Review: Elsewhere (2009)

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While Anna Kendrick's Sarah-- the heroine of C.S.I. award-winning cinematographer Nathan Hope's debut film as a writer/director--appears to be an average American teenager who works hard and is independent and well-adjusted, her best friend Jillian (Tania Raymonde) is described early into the movie as "the type" of girl "who goes missing."

In fact, if you asked her yourself, she'd probably tell you the same thing... only Jillian would say it'd be her decision to leave instead of being taken by force. Having gone so far as to take Sarah's old, throwaway suitcase and put it under her bed for the time she assures her friend that she'll go "elsewhere" to just get the hell out of Goshen, Indiana where the "local talent show" of high school boys has gotten too shallow for her liking-- Jillian has taken active measures to put her plan in action by trying to meet cyber men.

And she does this the only way she knows how which is by creating a provocative MySpace like profile where she shows nearly every inch of her flesh aside from her face. With over a thousand "friends"-- the girl who poses more than she stands and seems to be impersonating Megan Fox (who's in turn impersonating Angelina Jolie) walks around Goshen as though she's its secret movie star, albeit not one that can take part in features played at the multiplex but more the movies they keep in the back rooms of shame at the local video stores.

And sadly to the desperately misguided Jillian-- whose only rock in her life is her friendship with Sarah whom we sense she's known since they were young and therefore have bonded more like sisters despite growing desperately apart maturity-wise-- it does beat her existence living with a deadbeat chain-smoking work-from-home telemarketer mom who abuses the system with an always-changing disability whose only interests seem to be in her medical marijuana and cable television.

Yet intriguingly, Sarah's home life isn't exactly a postcard either as her overworked mother is always coming home late from the law firm, leaving town for depositions and more, thereby making even someone as improbable as Jillian who goes by "Da Bitch" in her cell phone and in her outgoing message of equal importance to a young woman who has it much more together on the surface.

After being confronted with Jillian's online alter-ego of depressing insecurity and the instant gratification she needs to find thousands of fake "friends" or really just leering creeps as opposed to genuine ones, Sarah voices her warnings aloud by questioning her friend rather than preaching. However, when Jillian reveals that she has a secret admirer who gave her a necklace (only nicknamed "Mr. X") and that she has a hot date with the member of her social networking community and we discover that another girl has already vanished from Goshen as well-- we know precisely where this is going.

Despite this, Jillian's sense of invincibility and her ability to control all the local boys and even the men including a police officer who proposed a lewd bribe to prevent a ticket until Jillian informed him she'd tell his wife the next day prevails. So she journeys off, never to be seen from again... except later that night when Sarah receives one of a few text messages allegedly from her friend including the first of which that seems to show a menacing video image of someone walking directly towards Jillian (on the phone) in a darkened out school bus before all we hear are screams.

Couple this unsettling video with the text of "GDJMPD" that was underneath the video embed and soon Sarah and the local computer geek, Jasper (Chuck Carter) realize that most likely, it was a frantically typed phrase Jillian tried to send assuming she was in the predictive or enriched text mode wherein the translation would read "Help Me." So of course, that is exactly what Sarah and Jasper decide to do in unraveling this increasingly dangerous cyber related mystery.

Although it doesn't really break any new territory and I was able to spot who the final culprit was going to be the first time they arrived on scene, Elsewhere benefits from its incredibly timely subject matter given the popularity of social networking platforms like MySpace and Facebook in which users-- including an alarming amount of teenagers and pre-teens-- share explicit and revealing personal information about themselves, not quite realizing that it's out there for anyone to see as well as the fact that given the anonymity of the online platform your new "friend" could live on the other side of the world or next door.

Nicely managing to make an effective and smart thriller without a lot of emphasis on carnage nor letting the film go into kinky territory since the writer/director is definitely revealing the seediest, sleaziest yet sadly most notorious aspect of the internet, Nathan Hope is likewise able to hide some of the limited production values and under-developed characters (especially the local male characters who seem to be caricatures at times as well as not quite understanding the bad parenting skills all around). However, Elsewhere does justifiably earn a legitimate R rating due to the intensity of the content and the given age of the characters.

Yet again, you have to applaud Hope for never once losing sight of the story he wanted to tell by letting the script devolve into some cheesy subplots like a more marketable romance between Jasper and Sarah, spending too much time dwelling into the explicit terrain of Jillian's overly sexual character (which would've defeated the purpose since this way it's even more tragic that the only thing this girl felt like she had to share with the world or her only currency was in the reinforced imagery of the "hot bod") or going into unbelievable satire mode a la the clever yet over-the-top Hard Candy.

While of course, I saw the end coming a mile away even at less than a two hour running time, it's still a better teen thriller than most of the studio ones deposited into theatres for the coveted cha-ching of the box-office. And of course, the bonus of Elsewhere is that socially it has a little more to say to viewers than The Grudge but it does so in an entertaining way that is captured very well in this sharp Blu-ray release (aside from the inclusion of standard definition extras).

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