Contrary to what you may think from the promotion and the name, Disconnect is not a movie about technology. It’s not saying the internet is the devil and should be avoided at all costs. It’s not a grating story about how having a smartphone takes people out of the real world, or at least that’s not the main point of the film. It’s much more than a movie about technology – It’s a movie about people, the consequences of their decisions, and the way they communicate.
After watching so many horrible anti-technology movies in recent years, I was very hesitant going into Disconnect. Thankfully, instead of serving as the focus for the film, technology is the backdrop, allowing the situations that the characters are put into to occur. Note that I said allowing. Technology doesn’t cause these situations, it’s the actions of people that cause the situations, and that’s made very clear throughout the film.
This is a multiple-story movie, with focus on various characters tied together sometimes by events in the film and at other times just by theme. Of course, that will automatically garner comparisons to films such as Crash. In Disconnect though, there are three main stories going on, and the characters don’t all end up interacting, though they’re all tied together by their poor decisions and the effects those decisions have. The first story involves Kyle (Max Theriot), a teenage sexcam performer who is contacted by a reporter, Nina (Andrea Riseborough), who sees what could be a career-making story in him. The two begin talking, get close, and he eventually agrees to do an interview with her. The story leads to consequences Nina didn’t anticipate, and things spiral beyond her control.
In the next story, a couple (Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgård) lose all their savings to an online hacker. They can’t get any help from the bank or the police, so they hire a private investigator (Frank Grillo) to see what he can do. It turns out they’ve likely lost their savings through the wife’s involvement in an online support group where she gave more information than she should’ve. Since nothing can be done until there’s concrete proof, they decide to go to where the suspect lives and find the proof themselves.
In the third story, that private investigator’s son, Jason (Colin Ford), and his friend create a fake female profile as a prank on a friendless boy in their school. That boy (played by Jonah Bobo) thinks it’s an actual girl and begins to develop feelings for her. When “she” sends him a nude pic, he’s faced with whether to reciprocate. All the while, no one in his family, including his career-focused father (Jason Bateman), has any idea how lonely he really is.
The first thing that stands out is this is the first movie I’ve ever seen where texts and instant messages are shown on the screen for any real amount of time, and it’s actually interesting. Not just interesting, but compelling. Usually, someone sitting at a computer or texting just seems forced. The worst is when the computer screen ends up being the focus of the shot for an extended period of time. In Disconnect, that never happens. The messages are put on the screen in a tasteful way, and it’s the interesting yet subtle reactions of the readers that make those scenes as enjoyable as the rest of the movie.
The cast is impressive just by name, but when it comes to the execution, they’re nothing short of brilliant. Everyone involved, from the top-billed to the smallest supporting roles, turn in performances that are such a pleasure to watch. That obviously speaks volumes to the actors on individual levels, but first-time fiction film director Henry Alex Rubin deserves immense credit for that. It’s incredible that a director who made his name with documentary films, where essentially zero coaching of actors is involved, could get so many great performances to line up so well in one film. It seems that many times he must have employed that same hands-off technique to this project, as all the performances feel remarkably natural. I could write in-depth about how much I enjoyed all the actors, but for the sake of conciseness, I’ll only highlight two here.
The first is Skarsgård. He’s so restrained and so subdued for the entire film, that when he finally cracks it’s absolutely brilliant. It’s incredibly mesmerizing to watch him look so hollow, so broken, and so helpless. He’s been great in everything recently, but this is where he’s done the most by doing so little, which is an impressive feat.
The second is Theriot. All the scenes he’s in are beautifully shot, above the level of the rest of the film, which sets the tone so well for his performance. He’s absolutely perfect here. This is the sort of role that shows that he’s fully ready to shoulder the mantle of legitimate actor capable of taking on basically anything that comes his way. It’s a different role, and one that is far from his comfort zone, but I’d say it’s his best performance to date.
The way the film weaves and winds through these various stories is thrilling. Every scene on its own is excellent, and the sum of the scenes is far greater than the individual parts. It’s a sharp, well-thought out script from Andrew Stern, who has penned a masterpiece with this one. My only complaint with what he wrote is that I wanted to see more than two hours of it.
Disconnect is almost emotionally overwhelming. So many moments are difficult to watch. It’s horrifying, haunting, harrowing, and yet so well done at every turn. It shocks in all the right places, and it shows the soul of these characters, not merely what technology has done to them. Don’t let the lack of a theatrical release stop you from checking this one out, Disconnect is a definite must-see.
Disconnect is disturbing and haunting, but most of all, it's an immensely compelling and taut thriller.