Running time 102 minutes
Written by Pamela Cuming and Lee Ross
Directed by Johan Renck
Starring Maria Bello, Jason Patric, Rufus Sewell, Amy Brenneman
In the creepy cinematic genre “Movies to Commit Suicide by,” a new entry: Downloading Nancy, a dismal mess by Johan Renck, a Swedish director of music videos and TV commercials who is clueless about telling a narrative story. Not only does it waste the audience’s time with 102 minutes of misery and despair, but it also trashes the talents of four fine actors who should have stayed in bed reading better screenplays that deserve attention and enhance careers.
Nancy (Maria Bello) is a wretched creature trapped in a pitiable 15-year marriage of such despondency that her definition of life is “like being trapped in the wrong house trying to find a way out” and her definition of death is “freedom and deliverance, like waking from a bad dream.” Not much in between except a shrink (Amy Brenneman) who works on value and self-respect to no avail, and tries to convince her that being raped repeatedly by her favorite uncle in childhood did not make her a bad person. But Nancy is so far gone that it’s too late for tears. Once in her doctor’s office, she goes into the bathroom and slices open her sex organs with a razor blade. Near-catatonic from depression, she spends half of her time self-inflicting numerous wounds that leave her body bleeding and scarred, and the other half buried in her computer searching for someone to kill her. It gets worse.
One day her husband, Albert (Rufus Sewell), comes home from one of his long absences to nowhere and finds a note saying Nancy has gone to Baltimore to visit friends. She never returns. Trapped in the dark passages of her own mind, Nancy thinks she has finally found liberation in the form of a cruel degenerate she meets on the Internet named Louis (Jason Patric). Louis promises escape, salvation, sexual perversion and murder. When she says, “I’m gonna need something to wear for my big finish,” you get the feeling she plans to commit suicide again and make it work. (In flashbacks, we see her try it with her arm in a sling and an endless supply of those lethal razor blades.) But Louis has slower cat-and-mouse games in mind. He blindfolds her and makes her walk barefoot into rat traps. Now we have two lost souls torturing each other. The greater the physical violence, the more Nancy likes it. And just wait till they get to the hardware store, where they almost salivate thinking of new things to do with the vast array of knives, hatchets, thumbtacks and carpet nails. More customers like Nancy and Louis could keep Home Depot solvent through three more recessions.
Meanwhile, for no explainable reason, Louis pays a visit to Albert, pretending to be a computer online service maintenance expert. Albert wants to read Nancy’s masochistic emails, hoping for a clue as to where she’s gone, but when Louis prints them out, they bring out Albert’s repressed sadism instead. Now it’s Louis’ turn to be bound and tortured with a golf club. There’s more, but why go on? The movie jumps around in time, in the annoying way amateurs make movies today. You don’t know where the people are when they are working each over or whether they’re dead already. It all ends badly, with Albert fingering his own razor blades, which Nancy has left behind, inserted in his cell phone.
Downloading Nancy is pretty much dead on arrival. It’s like one of those repulsive horror flicks by the Austrian whack job Michael Haneke. By piling on the sordid shocks without reason, motivation, character development or psychological analysis, director Renck and the two dolorous scriptwriters, Pamela Cuming and Lee Ross, have stripped it of any functionality and rendered it pointless. In all of the degradation, you don’t much care what the people do next. You just want them to get it over with faster. This is a shame because Maria Bello is a cool, literate and fascinating blonde who warrants more serious attention. In disturbing roles like the prostitute Bill Macy picks up in The Cooler and Viggo Mortensen’s wife in A History of Violence, she does fresh things with confusion and cutting-edge pain. Here, she is hollow-eyed, anemic, without makeup, her roots showing under her split ends, covered with scars—and still captivating. But it’s a role with a lot of degradation and no payoff. Whatever happens to Nancy in the end is strangely inconsequential. Cynical, negative and futile, the movie doesn’t register anything you can learn anything from. I think it’s supposed to be a Nietzsche-fueled examination of utter futility and nihilism. But to me, it’s more of a cautionary tale about the dangers of technology. At the end, the words “Based on true events” appear against a black screen. So what? Does this mean every time somebody self-destructs we need to see a movie about it?
Downloading Nancy made me good and sick—and the way I remember it, that is not the way movies are supposed to make us feel. Gillette disposables, anyone?