Film Review: ‘App,’ Smartphones Gone Wild

January 8, 2015 5:15 am Last Updated: January 8, 2015 4:11 pm

If you work for Sony, you probably don’t need a Dutch genre filmmaker to tell you how scary the Internet can be just now. However, if you are a selfie-taking, social network junkie who can hardly put down her smartphone, perhaps you could use another cautionary tale.

Arriving at a zeitgeisty moment, while Sony and JLaw are still reeling from their respective hackings, a college student will indeed struggle with digital technology at its most pernicious in Bobby Boermans’s “App,” just released on DVD from RAM Releasing.

After a party at her ex-boyfriend’s house, Rijnders wakes up with a hangover and a nasty piece of scumware installed on her phone.

Initially, technology is not all bad for Anna Rijnders. After all, an experimental implant is keeping her extreme sports dunderhead of a brother alive (hello, foreshadowing). Then the morning after a party at her ex-boyfriend’s house, Rijnders wakes up with a hangover and a nasty piece of scumware installed on her phone.

It is called IRIS and it has an attitude. While it feeds her a few answers during philosophy class, it also has a wicked sense of initiative. For instance, recording and posting naked videos is one of its favorite tricks. It also makes calls at inopportune moments. As we can tell from the prelude, it has already driven victims to suicide.

Just buy a new phone, right? Rijnders tries that. It only makes IRIS angry. Frankly, much of the app’s reign of terror defies logical explanations, but at least it convincingly shores up Rijnders’s actions and motivations. It is sort of like the old cult favorite “Electric Dreams,” depicting the technology of the day running impossibly amok, but if you buy into it, the films chug along pretty smoothly.

Hannah Hoekstra in
Hannah Hoekstra in “App,” in which a piece of malware in smartphones drive their users to despair. (Courtesy of RAM Releasing)

In the case of “App,” Boermans and screenwriter Robert Arthur Jansen tap into a real and growing paranoia over hand-held gadgets and accidental over-shares. Much has been made of its “second screen” component, allowing viewers to simultaneously see supplemental scenes and stills via the real-life IRIS app. Fortunately, the film holds up just fine on one screen, because voluntarily downloading IRIS just seems like bad karma.

Without question, “App” benefits from its lead performance. Hannah Hoekstra (recently seen in the pretty good Irish horror film “The Canal”) is no stupid teenager or mindless scream queen. She has a smart, dynamic presence that never taxes the audience’s patience.

Obviously, she is not making movies because she is plain, but she feels relatively real and down-to-earth as Rijnders. While she interacts with dozens of supporting cast members, Hoekstra is the only one getting appreciable character development time, but she carries the film rather well.

When was the last time digital and wireless technology were a force for good in a film? Maybe “You’ve Got Mail”? While there seems to be something problematic about that, this is probably not the right time to argue the point, given the recent cyberterror attacks.

As a result, this should be this film’s time to shine. In fact, it is a good one to catch up with on DVD. It is occasionally preposterous, but always solidly entertaining. Recommended for international thriller fans, “App” is now available for one- and two-screen home viewing, from Film Movement’s RAM Releasing.


Director: Bobby Boermans
Starring: Hannah Hoekstra, Isis Cabolet, Robert de Hoog
Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Available on DVD
Not Rated

3.5 stars out of 5


Joe Bendel writes about independent film and lives in New York. To read his most recent articles, please visit