Ratter is something of a misnomer; it falls into the stale found-footage subgenre, but it’s both utterly unique and unquestionably urgent. A film so penetrating in the way it evokes sustained paranoia, that only someone with remarkably liberal restraint will be able to feel comfortable using the various tech devices they own after watching it.
The term ‘Ratter’ refers to someone who hacks computer systems in order to take control of their functions. In this case the victim is Emma (Ashley Benson), a New York City college student who’s living away from home for the first time. While Emma goes about forming friendships and cultivating relationships, we inhabit the POV of a cyber-stalker who watches her daily through the cameras installed in her laptop and mobile.
Director Branden Kramer has adapted Ratter from his 2011 short film Webcam, which told a similar story at an accelerated speed. Here, the freedom of a feature length structure allows Kramer to build tension with deliberate leisure, pulling our nerves taut before plucking at them like an enthusiastic banjo player.
Kramer’s execution of a slow-burning pace installs Ratter with an enveloping edge of immediacy that’s effectively eerie. Ashley Benson’s brilliant performance is inherently natural, quickly causing us to forget we’re watching a work of fiction and enhancing the film’s air of realism.An obvious companion piece would be Leo Gabriadze’s cyber-natural horror Unfriended. But while the terrors of technology polemic was simply a subtext there, here it is a direct condemnation of the dangers that come from living so much of our lives through electronic devices. And as the faceless hacker’s activity moves away from watching video feeds and gradually inhabits the real world, Ratter begins to ring horribly true.
Throughout, Kramer retains a pulse-pounding intensity. The voyeuristic style is handled smoothly, its fluid application allowing the persistent changes in camera angle to never give the impression of it being a gimmick. Instead it feels unnervingly intrusive, like we’re somehow complicit and have crossed an invisible line between right and wrong. As Emma’s ordeal channels greater levels of terror, the tension becomes even more formidable, pushing the level of uncomfort to an almost unbearable altitude.
There are some minor bugs along the way: Matt McGorry’s jock boyfriend is a one-dimensional anomaly, while the final five minutes, though shocking, translates as a far too fictitious overreaction. The chillingly compelling material, however, primarily transcends such glitches; this is a timely and terrifying technological triumph.