DISCONNECT is a real missed opportunity to make some type of hard-hitting social commentary on our over-reliance of technology these days and our inability to disconnect from our phones, our computers, our tablets, in order to actually connect with human beings in the flesh. WARM BODIES did more subtly using zombies as a vehicle for those ideas than DISCONNECT does with plugged-in devices appearing at every turn. And when Henry-Alex Rubin’s film does attempt to say something of any substantial meaning, it’s so heavy-handed and over the top that you’d think DISCONNECT’s primary message is that all those devices you use on a regular basis are the devil. It’s all bad all the time, as if there aren’t good ways to use your smartphones, laptops, etc., and it really buries some of the better material in DISCONNECT beneath this “sky is falling” mentality.
Rubin’s film attempts to tell three different, sometimes loosely connected, stories about how our move towards everything being connected to the internet is bad, bad, bad. One of them doesn’t even really revolve around that conceit to begin with, focusing on a reporter’s play for a big story by exposing the seedy scheme of underage webcam models. That story belongs more in a sex trafficking film, and, even if you were to bump up all the models’ ages to be over 18, as some of them are, is a moral lesson necessary about the concept that people pay to get off watching other people get off online? It’s not a fit at all for the film, and every time DISCONNECT chooses to go back to this thread, mixed among the other two stories, it’s a clear reminder that one of these things just isn’t like the other and is clotting up any sort of fluidity the rest of the film might be able to achieve.
However, DISCONNECT aims to do something big with these three stories, only to fail on a few levels because none of them are ever fully realized. The sole reason there seems to be three to begin with is because, as it stands, one would only make up about 30 minutes of movie. Therefore, each one compliments the others as far as filling out a feature-length running time; otherwise, they don’t seem to play well off each other at all.
One of the segments deals with a troubled marriage in which, adding to the couple’s problems, they find out they’re the victims of online banking fraud, with someone out there having access to their account numbers, Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, the whole nine. Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton play the couple, and, in their own rogue investigation of trying to track down who is behind their dire financial straits, that’s when they’re bonding comes in. Yes, they are actually connecting again over their hunt into who is stealing their money. It’s a bit of a far-fetched idea, because it doesn’t quite seem the time to examine the problems plaguing their marriage, but that’s the card DISCONNECT is constantly playing... that when we step away from the evils of the technology and get back to basics, we can have real human interaction again. I think there’s a middle ground to be found there, but DISCONNECT only tends to operate in extremes.
The most interesting aspect of the film, and easily the most impactful, deals with a case of cyber-bullying by a couple of high school kids who thinks it’s hilarious to pick on one of their classmates who might be a bit lonely and not as cool by creating a fake profile on Facebook and using that made-up female persona for the purposes of humiliation. In a way, this is a tale of two fathers (Jason Bateman and Frank Grillo) on opposite sides, trying to do the best for their sons, yet not knowing the least of what they’re doing the rest of the time. How could you know your kids were doing something so horrific when you raised them not to be such vindictive assholes? This is one case DISCONNECT’s skeptical view on technology actually works, because these cyber-bullying situations are being all too common... but, in typical fashion, DISCONNECT has to play it up as everyone being a victim, trying to examine why the offender here may have done such a thing. I’m not sure that’s a path that needs exploring, as sympathy for the antagonist is hardly something I’m interested in, taking away from the real victim in such a scenario... but then again, when does DISCONNECT have a clear idea of what it wants to say? Never.
Bateman and Grillo are the best things going for DISCONNECT, and I do think there was room to balloon their story into something much bigger. Maybe there you can look deeper into where our society is that these fake profiles and Catfish creations have become more prevalent. That’s not necessarily casting unnecessary sympathy, but definitely allows the film to get its hands dirty in seeing what may be the root of these problems. However, that’s cut off by having to wedge two far less interesting stories into the DISCONNECT’s structure, and what the end result is is a film that never quite connects with you beyond the most minimal level. That’s a shame, because there is something to be said about our level of disconnect with each other as a result of technology... Rubin’s film just doesn’t seem to have the slightest clue how to go about saying it.
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