'Disconnect' Review: Cautionary Tales of Internet Abuse Alarm, Enlighten
If you’ve ever been at a dining room table with a friend or family member who won’t get off their phone, you know the importance of the word “disconnect.”
It seems that more and more often, we are sadly seeing people having conversations physically with one person while electronically communicating with another. The new drama Disconnect seems firmly aware of that concept and delves deeply and painfully into the world of electronic communication.
The film focuses on three distinct storylines. It offers up the story of a teenage outcast whose classmates cruelly prank him online by posing as a girl interested in him. Another story shows a man and his wife who spend too much time online and not enough time talking to one another. Lastly, there's an additional story about a female reporter who is working on a story about young people being used for sexual gratification online.
These are all stories that could be told in separate films but work as a cohesive unit here because they all speak to the same online dangers that we all see in the news.
Because of its connection to each person’s own personal insecurities, the first story resonates more fiercely than the others. In it, Ben (Jonah Bobo) is a high school loner who sees two of his fellow students commit a crime at a local store. Those two delinquents then decide to attack Ben by posing online as a girl at school who likes him. Their cruel hoax goes too far though, leading to consequences that no one—other than the audience— can predict. Ben’s father (Jason Bateman) begins investigating the situation when a near-tragedy soon occurs. This story, more than the others, speaks to the horror than teens can experience online today and serves as a powerful lesson for those who treat the web like a toy that can be controlled. It can’t be.
The story about the couple (Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard) who spend their time online is also handled well. In that scenario, the couple is dealing with the loss of a child. But they don’t deal with it with each other. They look online. The husband finds solace gambling on the internet while the wife finds comfort on message boards.
The final main story features Andrea Riseborough as a novice reporter and Max Theriot as a teen who "performs" sex acts online for money. This one is more surprising and multi-faceted than the others but sometimes feels out of place with its more complex characters. Of the three stories, this one seems most deserving of its own film.
For the first hour of Disconnect, the plot and the performances are quite riveting. Like the web itself, the story sucks viewers into a world disconnected from reality that seems real because it deals with actions (identity theft, teens abusing teens) that we oftentimes see far in the news. Writer Andrew Stern keeps the world in check for the film’s first half, which will leave viewers antsy about online security.
The concept falters, however, in its second half when the coincidences seem too transparent and the character’s actions ill-suited to the people we know onscreen. For instance, Ben’s father starts an online relationship with one of the people who hurt his son but hesitates to contact the police about what he discovers through his conversations with his son’s peer. The character may be lawyer but he makes several silly or self-destructive decisions along the way.
In the end, Disconnect is a strong and powerful tale about the dangers of spending a lifetime online or losing one’s self to online fantasies or ideals. The internet is a wonderful tool but can be a painful poison as well partly because in connecting to it, we sometimes disconnect from one another and leave ourselves vulnerable to the outside world.