★★★ / ★★★★
Henry Alex Rubin’s “Disconnect” crafts three intertwining stories about the pitfalls of the internet, but it is no Lifetime movie of the week. It bothers to go beyond the idea that although the internet is a wonderful tool that gives us a chance to connect with others in many ways, there is a trade-off in that some of us tend to grow further apart from loved ones closest to us physically and emotionally.
Having only three main plot lines benefits the picture because the material by Andrew Stern is able to hone in on some of the characters’ psychology. Because of one’s relationship with the internet, a person ends up losing something that is significant enough to disrupt the equilibrium of his or her life. Further, one’s loss is like a infection: slowly invading, eating away at its host, and then spreading. Its subject matter is heavy but one worth sitting through.
Cindy (Paula Patton) and Derek (Alexander Skarsgård) are still grieving over the loss of their infant. When they discover that their credit cards and other accounts have been used by a second party, they go to great lengths to get answers. Meanwhile, a reporter, Nina (Andrea Riseborough), is on the lookout for a latest hot scoop. She finds one in a website where underaged teens get paid to go on sex cams. She chats with one of them, Kyle (Max Thieriot), who appears to enjoy what he does. Lastly and one that is arguably the most gripping involves Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) one day deciding to pull a prank on a classmate (Jonah Bobo)—a joke that eventually ends up going way too far.
Ensemble pictures require balance and the filmmakers are up to the task. Though a drama in its core, the rising action consists of thriller-like elements. It jumps from one strand to another with confidence during the buildup but it never feels choppy. We are given a clear idea about what is at stake and so we are willing to wait for a crucial development as others are given a chance to unfold and reach a similar level of tension. It helps that all of the stories have something interesting to show or say.
Out of the three, the storyline involving a prank appears most developed. We get to see the source of the problem, how it is initiated, and the manner in which it gains momentum until the two kids are no longer in control of it. We are made to see the repercussions with an appropriate level of darkness and sadness. Perhaps most importantly, we get to observe how their parents react to what has occurred. I did not expect the material to invest so much time with the two fathers, played by Frank Grillo and Jason Bateman, thereby providing a different layer on top of what has happened between their sons.
On a personal level, “Disconnect” spoke to me, especially the one involving the high school students, because I did have my share of getting into trouble for having written something about someone on the internet. It happened about a decade ago but it is not the kind of incident one easily forgets—especially one that felt so threatening, you had plenty of sleepless nights wondering if it would ultimately derail a future you had worked so hard to build.
I connected with Jason most because I remember how it was like to feel guilty, ashamed, anxious, and angry about what I had done—that no matter what I did, the fact was that it happened and there was no other (sane) choice but to take responsibility.