‘Unlocked’ Review: Remember Not to Lose Your Smartphone

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The inextricable intertwining of technology and humans has made it impossible for us to imagine our lives without it. Man’s greatest invention has resulted in convenience and connectivity. Mobile phones have literally brought the entire world into our hands. With one click, you can take a picture, make a transaction, surf endlessly on the internet, and video call your best friend. And just like in the school debates where we argued about the boon and curse of the internet, “Unlocked” is almost a detailed argument presented with a case study about all that can go wrong with technology. Debut director Tae-joon recreates the organized digital chaos that we live in as we hop from one app to another in a vicious cycle. At the center of this chaos is Lee Nami, a marketer working at a jelly startup company. We follow her through her social media, and in the end, we witness a drunk Nami leave her phone on the bus. And thus began Netflix thriller film, “Unlocked,” based on Akira Teshigawara’s novel of the same name.

A young man takes Nami’s phone with him that night. He tries to unlock it using the details he gathered from her social media, but none of it works. He ends up breaking the screen and asking Nami to meet him to collect the phone. The catch is that the man pretended to be a woman and used recorded audio to converse with Nami. It is obvious that the man is a seasoned player, and Nami is one of his many victims. Meanwhile, detective Ji-Man and the missing persons team discover a mutilated woman’s body deep in the forest. Upon discovering vials of plant food, Ji-Man walks down to the source and recognizes the plum tree. He had planted a plum tree for his son deep inside the mountain forest when he turned ten. The tree even now had his son’s name on it.

Ji-Man and Jun Yeong had been out of touch for seven years. He knew his son was foolish, but he never thought he was capable of committing murders. He wondered if Jun Yeong was responsible for the murder or if he was being used by one of his friends. He knew that his son was in contact with his mother, and he tried to collect information from her. He learned that Jun Yeong would often shift from one place to another, and he always made it a point to inform her about it. He tracked down his location and found crucial evidence that proved that Jun Yeong was responsible for the recent murder. Meanwhile, Nami forms an unlikely friendship with a stranger named Oh Jun-Yeong, who shares her interests.

The mystery gets even more intense when more bodies are discovered in the forest, along with vials of plant food. It was not easy for Ji-Man to accept that his son might be involved in the serial killing, but he wanted to be the first one to get a hold of him. All he wanted to do was punish his son for destroying the reputation he had built over the years. But getting hold of Jun Yeong was not an easy task. Ji-Man goes to extreme lengths to find his son and bring justice to all those who lost their lives. While a greater threat looms upon her, Nami chooses to trust her instincts instead of following the advice of those around her. “Unlocked” is not solely about Nami’s life; it is essentially a commentary on our dependence on technology. It is also about the trauma that a father goes through when he realizes that his son might have been involved in a heinous crime and about a psycho killer who has a pattern but lacks motive.

The premise of “Unlocked” is quite predictable. We have witnessed too many murder mysteries (both real and fictional) about stalkers using data to threaten victims to anticipate how the story might unfold. While the first half of the film is pretty much what one would expect, the second half consists of unforeseen revelations that spice it up. While the thrill factor is heightened towards the end, “Unlocked” fails to be effective due to the lack of character exploration. We never got to know the characters well enough, leading to a lack of emotional connection with them.

Crucial supporting characters, such as Nami’s father and her best friend, were barely defined, and their relationship with Nami was not explored beyond what was necessary for the narrative to progress. Ji-Man could have been more than just a father with a few intense glances that did not accomplish much. Ji-man and Jun-yeong’s relationship deserved a better portrayal as well. The focus was completely on generating thrill and shock, which ultimately resulted in a lack of character depth. Nonetheless, the actors were convincing enough to pull it off. Chun Woo-hee portrayed the bubbly and intense sides of Nami effortlessly. Yim Si-wan, a popular name in the K-drama world, was quite convincing as the psycho stalker.

“Unlocked” is entertaining if you can overlook the obvious. The film surely caters to the Netflix audience in search of an entertaining watch that does not require too much thought. Though as a film, I believe “Unlocked” did not unlock its full potential; the film tried too hard not to be predictable and, in the meantime, forgot to focus on the characters, who deserved to be more than just ways to help the story proceed. It was intriguing how the psycho killer did not have a motive, much like our meaningless scrolling through social media. The lack of motive further adds to the general lack of objective in people’s lives. Most people are simply following a routine in which social media is the only source of entertainment, and many do not acknowledge the difference between being fans and creepy stalkers. Social media allows us to stalk people without ever knowing them personally, something that can be useful for building connections but can be dangerous if one decides to use the information to cause damage. Will people start to think before posting on social media after watching “Unlocked”? Let’s hope so.


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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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