Katie Hogan takes a look at ‘Dear Hacker’, as part of FilmHounds’ ongoing Fantasia Festival coverage.
One day director Alice Lenay notices that the camera on her computer flashes red on and off several times; then suddenly stops. Wondering whether the repeated occurrence is a hacker, a ghost, or even a spirit — she decides to investigate through a serious of conversations with friends and acquaintances. The film ‘Dear Hacker‘ highlights their theories on what the red light could be, their attempts to initiate communication back to the source of the red light, and the internal debate regarding if the desire for interaction is a good idea.
The disconcerting POV shots throughout the film create a feeling that we are intruding on private conversations. As we have all gotten used to these familiar sets up — whether for work or social reasons due to the current pandemic — the Zoom, Skype, Google Hangout view has become a very tiresome module to watch stories and discussions unfold. Making matters worse, the film is very limited in its interview variety. If only there was an exterior-sourced interviewee discussing their own philosophies and what they are comfortable with online, Dear Hacker could have been a more accessible documentary. Keeping everyone within Lenay’s social bubble was not compelling to watch and didn’t even remotely bother to engage with the viewer.
The idea of trying to discover who the hacker truly is would have been an interesting concept for a documentary, but Alice Lenay goes down a different route. The discussions she has taken turns into a film about what it means to communicate through screens and how we are perceived by others. When the conversations steer back to the hacker, the film has focus. But yet once again, it veers of course very easily. Being labelled as an experimental documentary, the film is able to take its time over what Alice and the other participants believe. But ultimately, the narrative doesn’t hold enough interest, even though the film is only a mere 60 minutes long. Though it is commendable that Lenay has managed to create a film that delves from an inciting conflict of a flashing red light, it feels like a lost opportunity that she didn’t actually attempt to investigate who was behind the light instead of swapping philosophical ideas over webcams.