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Unlocked (Netflix): Film Review

A relevant and relatable premise, good acting, and some chilling scenes aren’t enough to cover up Netflix’s Unlocked’s noticeable plot holes.

Korean Title: I just dropped my smartphone
English Title: Unlocked
What happened here?

Directed by Kim Tae-joon and coming soon to Netflix, Unlocked (스마트폰을 떨어뜨렸을 뿐인데) is based off of a Japanese novel of the same name by Akira Teshigawara. It follows Nami (Chun Woo-hee), a young woman who gets wasted one night and drops her smartphone on the bus. As luck would have it, the person who picks it up happens to be a serial killer named Jun-yeong (Im Si-wan). Meanwhile, detective Ji-man (Kim Hee-won) chases after Jun-yeong’s case, trying to stop him from another kill.

Victim vs killer vs detective: it’s a simple premise for a thriller, even a clichéd one. Yet Unlocked still managed to grab my attention from just its premise thanks to one thing: its focus on smartphones. It’s no exaggeration to say that nowadays, we’re hooked to our smartphones like an emergency room patient is hooked to an IV. Phones contain everything, from your social calendar to whatever weird photos you took after a drinking game.

Because of this, the premise of the movie is instantly relatable. The idea that someone is looking through your contacts, search history, passwords, basically everything you need for your social life, is terrifying. That is where Unlocked shines the best, when it shows how easily Jun-yeong sneaks into and destroys Nami’s life through the smartphone, building solid tension through every move he makes.

It also helps in terms of characterization. Nami isn’t a particularly deep character: she has no tragic backstory or strong aspirations. She is an everyman. However, that aspect works in conjunction with the smartphone premise, making us feel like what we see could happen to us if we’re not careful. We don’t care for Nami because she is layered, but because her situation comes off as so relatable that we cannot help but get invested.

loud and clear reviews Unlocked netflix 2023 film movie
Unlocked (Jeon Young-wook/Netflix)

However, you can’t just have this be a smartphone danger advertisement for 2 hours, so we need an actual plot. Unfortunately, Unlocked suffers in that execution, mainly due to plot holes. Now, I am not the type of person who rewinds through the movie twenty times at 0.25 speeds to find every single plot hole imaginable and claim all of them ruin the movie. My stance is that as long as the movie can keep me engaged enough for me to not mind or notice the plot hole, it isn’t a real issue.

This is an especially difficult job with more grounded thrillers like Unlocked. Not only does it go off of an already realistic premise, but the mystery thriller requires meticulousness arguably more than any other genre. You need to provide a good reason for why the culprit doesn’t get caught for the majority of the runtime. For instance, the movie gives good enough justification on why Nami can’t just get a cyber investigation going right away, as she has no real evidence. But if the story stumbles on that logical front, then that will constantly be on the back of my mind, taking me out of the experience.

In Unlocked, Ji-man discovers the culprit’s house and finds evidence at around the first 30 minutes. And from that point on, my immersion’s toast. Even when Jun-yeong is continuing his approaches to Nami, a part of me is asking why the Ji-man isn’t just ending the situation right now. Admittedly, the movie tries to give some justification on that front through a certain character relationship Ji-man has. But the movie doesn’t spend enough time delving into that emotional element, which in turn makes me focus more on the logical elements and their inconceivability.

The fact that the killer also displays very illogical behavior doesn’t help either. Jun-yeong makes no effort to hide his face or refrain from leaving fingerprints and other biological evidence at the scenes of his crimes. At one point, he attacks a character while not even having a mask on. I realize that Im Si-wan is devastatingly handsome and normally I won’t be complaining about seeing more of his face, but here, this behavior just makes the killer seem dumber, and I’m once again wondering why the story hasn’t ended already.

Granted, not all of the movie’s plot holes irk me so much. There is a certain confrontation that happens with Ji-man a little past the halfway mark where I wondered if the movie had jumped the shark. I won’t fully spoil, but it’s as if the movie seriously thought people wouldn’t recognize someone just because they took off their glasses and cut their hair a little. However, it actually managed to pay off in the climax, and caught me off guard.

Sadly, a clever twist or premise can only do so much to salvage one’s immersion when that immersion is leaking out of other plot holes. I wouldn’t say I had a terrible time with Unlocked. It is well shot, well acted, and when the movie focused on its premise, showing the havoc one could cause through a smartphone, it still managed to unnerve me enough to make me consider gluing my phone to my body from now on. But it’s still a shame, because with a tighter script, it could have actually made me bring out the superglue instead of just considering it.

Unlocked will be streaming globally on Netflix from February 17, 2023.

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