There’s nothing worse than feeling as if the universe is out to get us. You likely know the feeling if you’ve ever had a string of bad days in a row. When life sucker punches us in such a way it can make even the sanest of us begin to slip. If there’s one thing humans universally value, it’s some semblance of control over their lives. Too many unfortunate events occurring in a short time span can leave one feeling lost – as if they’re somehow losing the control they felt they had over their own destiny. This is the concept at the heart of BROWSE, a slow-burn thriller film from director Mike Testin and writer Mario Carvarhal. Although BROWSE is classified as a thriller, it’s more of an amalgamation of several genres working hand-in-hand to create an imperfect, but entertaining suspense film.
The film tells the story of a seemingly average man named Richard (Lukas Haas), who is struggling to get his life back on track after a difficult breakup. We first meet him as he’s putting himself back out there, using online dating to seek out both hookups and potential partners. While most of his profile matches quickly lose his interest, Richard’s fortune changes when he matches with a woman from his apartment complex named Veronica (Chloe Bridges). In spite of their encouraging text conversations, Veronica seems hesitant to meet with Richard in person.
This is the least of Richard’s problems however, as his life soon begins to collapse around him. His rent payments fail to go through, his rental furniture is forcibly repossessed, and he faces a downscaling crisis at work. What originally appears to be bad luck quickly becomes more personal. Richard learns that someone has accessed his bank accounts, and is making obscene phone calls to his ex from his own phone number. Feeling helpless as his world unravels, Richard begins to suspect someone could be blackmailing him – but who? Therein lies the mystery of BROWSE, and the film is more or less successful in providing enough twists and turns to make it worth your while.
As I mentioned previously, BROWSE is not a perfect film. The dialogue is a bit wooden in places, and the pacing isn’t always optimal – but overall I found myself engaged and entertained for the total runtime, and was pleasantly surprised by the stylistic choices made by the filmmaker. The influence of filmmakers such as Brian De Palma and David Lynch can be found everywhere in this film. Nods to films like Body Double are apparent, but Carvarhal does a good job of giving the script its own identity, while Testin’s directing shows occasional flashes of brilliance. There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates every scene, and one can’t help but feel constantly unsettled by the film’s atmosphere. This is maybe the most successful element of the film, and as Richard struggles to piece together the nightmare he finds himself at the center of, we the viewer can’t help but feel as stressed and paranoid as him. BROWSE also does a fine job of exploring the darker side of living in a tech-centric society. While we may feel our personal and private information is secure, it’s really only a key press away from falling in the hands of a complete stranger with harmful intentions. Part of Richard’s paranoia stems from his incompetence with technology – and yet so much of his life relies on it. Another element the film leans heavily into is the voyeuristic nature of technology, and how we’re always being watched by some unseen lens. These deep-thinking concepts occasionally get buried by repetitive story beats but are cleverly explored when they are focused on.
BROWSE may not be perfect, but it’s largely original, and I’m all about originality in this age of endless sequels and adaptations. While its influences may be apparent, it still stands perfectly fine on its own legs and feels like a truly singular vision. Even though the budget appears to be small, the film does a lot with very little and chooses to use psychological storytelling to create its suspense, as opposed to extravagant set pieces and special effects. Striking visuals, solid performances, and promising directing make this film worth your time. If you’re into noir-soaked mysteries, you’ll find a lot to love in BROWSE, and I can only hope to see more from the creative team responsible for it.
BROWSE arrives on VOD July 7th from Film Rise.