In a world emphasized by warnings about the societal stranglehold that technology possesses, i-Lived exists as one of the most obvious metaphors of a complete digital takeover. From the mind of Franck Khalfoun comes a story about living life as it’s meant to be lived, but more importantly, reading the fine print before agreeing to endless contractual obligations. There’s no sugarcoating his fabricated smartphone application, dubbed “i-Lived.” It’s all about selling your soul to the Devil, which is a larger message about relying on technology to guide our daily lives. For example: why scour countless bars for a mate when some app already has an algorithm that can statistically pair you with a near-perfect match? That’s the question of i-Lived. Why actual LIVE, when a computer can just do it for you?
Jeremiah Watkins stars as Josh, a Stanford-graduate-slacker who spends all his time reviewing apps on YouTube (his J-Tech alter ego). He’s behind on his bills, hopelessly single, and without any personal direction, but then he finds an iPhone app called “i-Lived.” The program operates by texting directly with the user, first by asking for an overall goal that’s to be achieved. For example, Josh wants to make a hot bar patron his girlfriend, so he inputs that into “i-Lived.” He’s then given a series of missions, and after he completes each one, he’s one step closer to dating the girl of his dreams. Josh becomes obsessed with his new gadget, but when a shadowy figure appears to be following his every step, he deletes the app for good. Unfortunately, there is no deleting ‘i-Lived,” and Josh must deal with the consequences.
Despite Josh’s slow descent into a lucid techno-nightmare, nothing about i-Lived feels right. Khalfoun achieved damn near atmospheric perfection in his Maniac remake, but this hapless connection of goofy jokes and doomed recordings never truly decides what movie it wants to be. Watkins does his best to cheese up the J-Tech show with typical ADD-like editing that today’s YouTube stars favor, but these cutaway review bits are an unfunny chore to sit through. Then we’re expected to flip the switch and let Josh’s paranoia overtake our own senses, but we’re still reeling from an out-of-place gimmick that’s neither comical nor endurable. Khalfoun’s tone bounces around without any control, smothering any tension before it ever has the chance to grow.
The concept of i-Lived ends up being much more intriguing than the final product, because while his message is obvious, Khalfoun speaks the truth. So many individuals would rather live their lives through a tiny smartphone screen than reality. When people stumble upon a beautiful landscape, their first reaction is to whip out an iPhone, snap a picture, crop the borders, scroll through filters, adjust the saturation, post to Instagram, and then spend the next three hours intermittently refreshing their apps to track how many “Likes” they’ve received. Instead of, you know, soaking in the beauty of nature through the two perfectly observant eyes they’ve been blessed with. Technology has reduced our own experiences to calculations and snapshots, and that’s exactly what the “i-Lived” app does by literally telling Josh how to live (the title even mocks its users in a Steve-Jobs-like fashion).
Unlike Steve Jobs though, Jeremiah Watkins has the charisma of Chris Hardwick on speed, except less funny and devoid of any dramatic emotion. His arc follows that of a wasteful slacker who blossoms into a svelte celebrity, yet Josh never depicts a drastic change as the Devil’s treachery transforms him. Watkins also does a terrible job conveying fear, which makes it almost impossible for viewers to experience that same scared feeling. The character of Josh is never a particularly good one, but since he’s surrounded by even more wooden stereotypes in the form of supporting cast members, we have no choice but to grasp onto Watkins for dear life, hoping he’ll discover an acting prowess that never quite surfaces.
You’d think if Franck Khalfoun sold his soul to the Devil, he’d be able to come up with something a little more captivating than i-Lived. You all get that “lived” spelled backwards is “devil,” right? “i-Lived?” “deviL-i?” Like you’re being watched by the eyes of the Devil, doing his bidding without even recognizing it? It’s a neat little concept, and one that resonates with today’s youth, but there’s such a dead, weightless air to the whole production. Technology is supposed to be sleek, sexy, and intriguing, but i-Lived feels like an outdated relic that’s struggling to keep up with the times.
When the scariest part of a movie is its devilish promotional poster, you know there's something seriously wrong.