With so much free-floating fear and understandable paranoia about identity theft in the world, it’s not surprising that the practice has been a part of or at the core of several films in recent years. There are few things that would be more of a nightmare for the average citizen than having money disappear, secure information swiped, or even someone assuming your voice and ruining your reputation in the process. This is the anxiety at the core of director Mike Testin’s Browse, a low-grade thriller in which the fairly average, introverted Richard (Lukas Haas) is still reeling from a recent breakup, when he starts to suspect that his life has been hacked after a casual exchange of messages on an online dating site.
As low-key as Richard might be, he’s also not above a casual hookup, including several times with his upstairs neighbor. He just bangs on the ceiling with a broom handle and shows up at her door a few minutes later. I never got the sense that Testin and writer Mario Carvalhal wanted us to think their protagonist was someone you’d want to be friends with, so when things start blowing up in his life, you don’t feel particularly sympathetic at first—maybe not the best approach to a film like this. In fact, so many of Richard’s problems seem to revolve around the women in his life that we start to suspect (go figure) that Richard might be the problem.
The biggest of the issues with Browse is that it never quite finds the tone within which it wants to exist. In one moment, Richard is panicking because he thinks someone is trying to destroy his life—canceling his credit cards, stopping auto-payments on his apartment rent and rented furniture, and even calling and otherwise electronically harassing his ex (Jocelin Donahue). Then in the next moment, he doesn’t seem to place any urgency on any of these life-altering disasters. He’s chilling out and chatting with his only friend in the office (Sarah Rafferty, who bears such a resemblance to Amy Adams that I thought it was her) or chills and plays piano at a neighbor’s party. He’s also slightly obsessed with the dating-site woman (Chloe Bridges), who turns out to be a singer and is considering a restraining order.
There are vague notions that Browse is one of those stories where the lead character might be imagining or misinterpreting a great deal of what he thinks is someone hacking his life, but the script’s hints that this might be the case are so fuzzy and unformed that it feels like the writer gave up on those notions but didn’t bother to write out the initial references to Richard’s potentially tenuous grasp on reality. In fact, a great deal of the movie consists of unfinished ideas, plot points, story threads, and character arcs. Haas is actually the film’s saving grace. With his seemingly persistent sweatiness, Richard seems like exactly the kind of person who would both be wrongfully accused and do all of the things he’s falsely accused of doing. The character might be underwritten, but Haas knows how to breathe life into the otherwise lifeless. I’m also interested in where his character lands, even if it turns out it’s somewhere not particularly interesting, as in the case of Browse.
The film is now available on digital and VOD platforms.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support!