Fun-loving college student Anna Rijnders (Hanna Hoekstra) has a lot on her plate trying to pass a tough psychology class while helping her brother Stijn (Alex Hendrickx) recover from a crippling bike accident. After a run-in with her ex-boyfriend Tim (Robert de Hoog) at a party, Anna wakes up the next morning to find a mysterious Alexa-like app on her phone called IRIS. At first IRIS proves an invaluable aid in class but then inexplicably turns on Anna. First it uploads a sex tape featuring Anna's best friend Sophie (Isis Cabolet) that wrecks their relationship. Then it uploads a nude video of Anna onto every device at her local electronics store. It not only proves impossible for Anna to delete IRIS from her phone but the insidious app spreads to other users. As freak accidents start to befall those closest to Anna, she resorts to desperate measures to stop whoever it is that is messing with life.
Given the omnipresence of smartphone technology in our everyday lives it is little wonder paranoid techno-thrillers proliferate the big screen. Back in the Sixties Theodore J. Bikel's masterful satire The President's Analyst (1967) posited a scenario wherein the phone company manipulated the Cold War and society at large to its own advantage. The more recent wave of phone-based horror films have gone a step further, replacing sinister conglomerates with even more dehumanized and malevolent techno threats. Notably teen-aimed J-horror fare such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse (2001) and Takashi Miike's One Missed Call (2003), both of which were poorly remade for the Anglo-American market, and the Stephen King adaptation Cell (2016). App, a slight but slickly entertaining Dutch production, first played theatres in Holland with a gimmick worthy of legendary schlockmeister William Castle. Viewers could download an app that would interact with the film in real time. The app supposedly delivered additional information expanding the story and characters while also providing alternate camera angles for key scenes. Of course cynics may wonder why not simply include those in the film itself. Not to mention that most dedicated film fans abhor people playing with their phones during a movie.
Misguided gimmicks aside App at least has the good sense to craft engaging, likable characters before plunging them into an absurd techno-paranoid plot. Gifted Dutch actress Hanna Hoekstre elevates the material with her intense performance. Sort of a lightweight teen-friendly variant of Lisbeth Salander, the iconoclastic young protagonist at the centre of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) and its sequels/remakes, Anna is a pleasingly strong heroine who grows increasingly bad-ass as events escalate. To his credit screenwriter Robert Arthur Jansen taps into some very real teenage fears regarding the abuse of social media and having one's most private secrets exposed to the world. Unfortunately App is either overly reliant on its plot-clarifying gimmick or else simply fails to give its paranoid ideas room to breathe. The plot too often skirts absurdity whenever IRIS (portrayed as a freaky CGI floating head) pulls silly faces. It is also riddled with holes. Why aren't the police more suspicious of Anna given she is present at so many freak accidents?
Actor-turned-director Bobby Boermans is no Michael Bay and keeps the pace brisk with his stylish direction. He pulls off a few scenes that are creepy in concept yet undone by absurdly contrived murder set-pieces reminiscent of the over-praised Final Destination (2000). Hoekstre's grounded, emotive lead turn keeps the movie compelling even as the plot grows increasingly far-fetched. Alas, the film bows out refusing to tidy up several glaring loose ends with an ambiguous finale that just smacks of lazy writing.