July 7, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Mike Testin
Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the drama “Browse” has a predominantly white cast (with a few Asians and black people) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Bad things start happening to a lonely unmarried man, and it might or might not be connected to his recent online dating activities.
Culture Audience: “Browse” will mostly appeal to people who like mystery dramas set in seedy atmospheres, but the only people who will like this movie are those who don’t mind badly written scenes that ultimately serve no purpose in the film.
The incoherent drama “Browse” tries to look like a suspenseful horror movie, but there’s nothing scary or thrilling about this rambling dud of a film. If you expect movies about a mystery to have the mystery solved by the end of the film, then don’t waste your time watching “Browse,” which has a conclusion that is as unsatisfying as it is pointless. “Browse” director Mike Testin tries to infuse some artsy elements into the movie, but the “Browse” screenplay by Mario Carvalhal is really a substandard unfinished draft instead of a cohesive, complete story.
In “Browse,” which takes place in Los Angeles, Richard Coleman (played by Lukas Haas) is a lonely divorced man who lives by himself in the type of shabby high-rise apartment building that used to be a hotel in its glory days. Richard is an office manager at a start-up company (the type of business is not mentioned in the movie), where his abrasive and cocky boss Daniel (played by Ken Kirby) is about 15 years younger than Richard.
Richard’s rented apartment is as dull, dreary and nearly empty as his life. He can’t even commit to buying furniture, since all of the furniture in the apartment is rented, and he’s kept the plastic coverings on the furniture. The only “companions” that Richard has at home are an Alexa-type of device named Roxy and any of the random women he might chat with online when he goes on dating sites or webcam model sites. Richard also spends a lot of time in virtual-reality worlds.
Richard is sometimes visited by an apartment front-desk employee named Kyle (played by Bodhi Elfman), a nosy motormouth who teases Richard about Richard’s attempts to find love online. One evening, while Kyle is visiting Richard, he tells Richard that the apartment managers have bought up other apartments on the street and want to kick out longtime residents, in order to rent to the wealthy people who are willing to pay higher prices. Kyle also reminds Richard that his rent is due, but Richard says that he’s on an automatic payment plan and the rent isn’t due until the next day.
Kyle also has a morbid fascination with talking about how people died in the building. He tells Richard about a longtime building resident who killed himself by putting a plastic bag over his head. The man’s decomposed body was found several days later, and it made the local news.
And later in the story, Kyle also wants to show Richard surveillance video of an apartment resident who committed suicide on the surveillance video by shooting himself of the roof of the building. However, Richard refuses to watch the video because he thinks it’s too creepy.
Even if “Browse” didn’t have a scene of Kyle pressuring Richard to watch a disturbing suicide video, the movie telegraphs too much that Kylie is a shady person who can’t be trusted. In one scene, Kyle tells Richard that an unidentified man stopped by the apartment building asking if Richard lived there, but Kyle can’t describe the man and where he went.
Meanwhile, there are signs that Richard is the victim of identity theft, and whoever stole his identity has access to his bank accounts and credit cards. In another scene, Kyle tells Richard that his rent is one month overdue. Kyle later says he was mistaken and that Richard’s rent is actually three months overdue and the landlord wants to evict Richard. However, Richard objects to this claim, because he says he knows the rent was paid, and if it hadn’t been paid, the landlord would have notified him.
The furniture company where Richard got his furniture calls Richard to tell him that they’re repossessing the furniture because he stopped paying. An angry Richard tells them that he hasn’t missed any payments and that he should probably own the furniture by now. Nevertheless, the furniture gets repossessed. And then, Richard finds out that his bank accounts are overdrawn by thousands of dollars, and his bank card has been declared a “fraud” by the bank.
In the middle of all this financial drama, Richard has become enamored with a woman named Veronica (played by Chloe Bridges), who looks like a model and who is an aspiring singer who goes by the stage name Veronique. Richard first “met” Veronica online through a dating site, and they began texting and talking with each other. Richard is thrilled to find out that Veronica lives in the building across from his, and he can see right into her apartment.
But when Veronica suggests they meet up late one night at his apartment building’s swimming pool so they can smoke cigarettes together, she ends up being a no-show. The only person smoking a cigarette near the pool is an unnamed young man, played by Luke Spencer Roberts.
When Richard asks the young man who he is, the young man cryptically replies with famous words uttered by Jim Morrison of The Doors: “I’m the lizard king. I can do anything.” This “lizard king” reference has no bearing on this movie’s story, but it’s an example of the randomly derivative things in “Browse” that seems like it’s a possible clue to what’s going on, but it actually leads nowhere.
Even though Veronica stood up Richard for their “date” at the swimming pool, he becomes obsessed with her. Richard becomes a Peeping Tom and even takes voyeuristic photos of Veronica when she’s in her apartment with the windows exposed. It isn’t long before she finds out that Richard is a creep who’s been spying on her.
“Browse” also shows Richard doing some Internet stalking of his ex-wife Roxy Castillo (played by Jocelin Donahue), who is now remarried and expecting a child with her current husband. Is it a coincidence that Richard’s talking computer device and his ex-wife both have the same name? Richard finds out about the pregnancy because his ex-wife Roxy posted the baby news and an ultrasound photo on her social media.
Out of the blue, Richard’s ex-wife Roxy calls him to ask him to stop his phone harassment. She claims that someone with his phone number has been harassing her, but Richard vehemently denies it.
Roxy then makes a vague reference to a past problem that Richard had, and she says that her current husband Jim is a professional who can get Richard some help. Richard angrily yells at Roxy that he’s not a charity case, and then she hangs up on him. Is this a clue that maybe Richard is delusional and that he’s the cause of his own problems?
But Richard’s life is about to get worse. There’s a webcam model whom Richard has gotten to know in real life named Rachel (played by Allison Dunbar), whose online alias is Candy. Richard and Rachel/Candy met up for a sexual hookup, but unbeknownst to Richard, she video recorded them having sex. He only finds out when he sees that she’s put the sex video on her website without his permission—and his face is in full view, so there’s no hiding his identity.
The sex video causes problems for Richard at work, where he’s on shaky ground with his boss Daniel, who has hired a new employee who might be Richards’ replacement. Daniel has ordered Richard to fire three of Richard’s subordinates as part of the company’s downsizing plans. One of those subordinates is named Claire (played by Sarah Rafferty), who is obviously attracted to Richard, but the feeling isn’t mutual.
However, Richard likes and respects Claire. Therefore, he balks at Daniel’s demand that Claire has to be one of the three employees that Richard is supposed to fire. Meanwhile, Richard is suspicious of an information technology (IT) employee named Brendt (played by Abhi Sinha), whom he caught one day fiddling around with Richard’s work computer. Richard starts to wonder if Brendt has anything to do with Richard’s apparent identity theft.
All of this sounds like a good mystery, but the way it’s presented in “Browse” ends up being a jumbled mess. The neo-jazz musical score by Makaya McCraven suggests that “Browse” is an intriguing noir movie, but this is really an aimless story that doesn’t really know what to do and how to resolve the issues presented in the story.
There is nothing remarkable about any of the acting in the film. And even if the performances were great, the characters are written as shadowy people with no real backstories. The only thing about Richard’s past that’s really revealed is that he used to be married and he might have some psychiatric problems.
At one point in the movie, when Richard’s life is completely falling apart, he utters in despair: “I think I’m paralyzed from the neck up, if that makes any sense … I don’t know how to get back on track.” That pretty much describes the brain-dead turn this movie takes, as it leads viewers into an oblivion of disappointment and confusion.
FilmRise released “Browse” on digital and VOD on July 7, 2020.