Movies about the horrors of the Internet go back as far as 1995’s The Net, but in most cases, they evoke more laughs than scares (remember Fear Dot Com?). i-Lived, written and directed by Franck Khalfoun, puts a modern twist on an old idea and despite some ingenious visuals and a charming lead actor, the results are somewhat disappointing.

Josh Fosse reviews apps for a living on his YouTube channel J-Tech. It’s not much of a living, unfortunately, as Josh’s father likes to remind him on Skype. Josh’s girlfriend recently left him and he hasn’t done a whole lot with his Stanford University degree. His landlady is constantly bugging him about not paying rent and his electricity bills are way overdue.

One of the apps that Josh reviews is called i-Lived. The user creates a goal and the app suggests ways to reach it. Then, the user uploads videos of himself taking steps to reach the goal. Josh’s first goal is to attain a six-pack and when he doesn’t gain rock hard abs right away, he gives the app a two-star rating. After watching some of the user testimonials on how i-Lived has transformed lives, Josh reconsiders.

While out at a bar with his friend Bobby, Josh spots an attractive Katy Perry look-alike named Greta and i-Lived convinces him to go for it. When he ends up making out with Greta in her convertible roadster, Josh decides that his next goal will be to make Greta his girlfriend.

It’s a pretty simple setup, and savvy viewers will spot the Faustian undertones immediately. This makes i-Lived fairly predictable and low on suspense. However, two factors that render i-Lived a cut above are its clever cinematography and Jeremiah Watkins as Josh.

Unlike Nacho Vigolando’s excruciating Open Windows, director Khalfoun doesn’t try to frame the entire movie in screens. The editing between J-Tech videos, Skype calls, video game screens, security web cams, and the i-Lived app is seamlessly executed and remarkably believable, especially for those of us who essentially live our lives through technology.

Josh is an affable underachiever whose only problem is a crippling lack of confidence. His J-Tech videos are charming and hilarious and if it were a real YouTube channel it would probably be hugely popular. Unfortunately, Josh can’t seem to translate that sparkling personality into his non-cyber life. References to his religious family back home in Michigan give some indication as to why Josh is so naïve, so when things start to go wrong, as they always do in these situations, it’s totally plausible.

Josh’s slide into bad behavior is subtle and well acted. Sure, we don’t know the guy that well but he doesn’t seem like the kind of jerk who buys all his drinks on his girlfriend’s tab, steals expensive suits, and charges things on other people’s credit cards.

Unfortunately, i-Lived saves its horror elements for well into its 96-minute running time, despite a few hints early on, like the blurring between dreams and reality and the continued shots of a mysterious elevator shaft. This causes a jarring shift in tone that makes it seem like we’re watching two totally different movies.

Still, the black-clad dude who shows up in all of Josh’s i-Lived uploads is definitely creepy. When Josh goes full evil and resorts to kidnapping and torture, the creep factor gets ramped up quickly. Then we remember that, yes, Franck Khalfoun is the same guy who directed the disturbing and grotesque Maniac remake and it all makes sense.

i-Lived also fulfills the promise of Chekhov’s gun in a big way. This is not a movie with a happy ending but that’s a good thing. Any other kind of resolution would be a huge horror cop out.

i-Lived isn’t a masterpiece, but it isn’t a failure, either. It’s a decent movie that’s low on scares and reasonably high on the smart meter. If Khalfoun can balance his shifts between excessive gore and clever social commentary, his next movie will definitely get more stars than the i-Lived app.

i-lived poster