Rarely have I felt an urgent need to calm down myself with a glass of drink or anything, but I had such a feeling while watching Czech documentary film “Caught in the Net”, which was released as “#WeWatchYou” in South Korean theaters a few days ago. Those sexual predators lurking in the dark territories of the Internet are not a shocking news anymore to many of us these days, but what is presented in the documentary is so chilling and disturbing that, in fact, I could have stopped more than once during my viewing if I had watched it via streaming service or screener.
At the beginning, we observe how directors/writers Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák and his crew members carefully set up the stage for their documentary. First, they held an audition for adult actresses who are young enough to look like being around 12-13 on the surface, and you will be surprised as watching many of actresses in the audition willingly talking about each own past experience with those online sexual predators out there. As already told to us in advance, the recent statistics shows that a considerable number of underage kids in Czech have been exposed to online sexual predators, and that is the main motive behind Chalupová and Klusák’s apparently risky documentary project.
Once three actresses (Tereza Těžká, Anežka Pithartová, and Sabina Dlouhá) were eventually selected after the audition, Chalupová and Klusák and their crew members embarked on making these actresses into plausible baits for their online targets. Besides preparing the fake accounts on several prominent social media applications including Facebook, the crew members also worked on making the convincingly realistic bedroom sets for each of these actresses, and we get some cheerful moments when these actresses bring some authenticity to their roles via renting a number of notable personal items from their respective adolescent pasts. To be frank with you, I was tickled a little by a brief scene involved with a plain but nice handmade doll house, and I also giggled when a certain famous American young adult novel was mentioned at one point.
After these careful preparations were completed on the set, our three actresses took their first step as disguising themselves as 12-year-old girls. For their protection, there were a number of rules on how to communicate with those online targets, and their online activities were also constantly monitored by not only the filmmakers on the set as well as several various experts brought to the set in advance for advice and consultation.
Nevertheless, the following results during next several days shocked and amazed everyone on the set a lot. As soon as the actresses presented their respective underage alter egos on the Internet, a bunch of very suspicious adult online users approached to them within a few minutes, and many of these adult users, who sometimes look like the creepy version of Casper the Friendly Ghost due to their blurred faces in the documentary, did not hide at all their deplorable sexual intentions in front of the actresses and everyone else on the set. Mostly frank about their age, these adult users blatantly attempted to befriend, seduce, and then exploit the actresses, and many of these dirty rotten persons did not even hesitate to send the photos of their certain body parts. During my viewing, I wrote down in my mental note: “Gee, this documentary has more dick pics than what I saw from those Grindr users during last five years.”
The situation subsequently became trickier when one of the crew members recognized one of these adult users approaching to the actresses. The man in question has handled many young kids because of his current occupation, and everyone on the set was more alarmed and disgusted as that person showed more of his depravity in front of them. The actresses kept their spirit high while also getting some help and support from the crew members and the experts on the set, but we cannot help but become concerned about their emotional tolls whenever they handle that person and several other equally loathsome online sexual predators.
Anyway, Chalupová and Klusák and their actresses and crew members continued to stick to their plan as entering its later stages. They prepared a number of fake nude photographs which can induce their online targets to cross ethical/legal lines, and we get quite a repulsive moment when one of their online targets cruelly blackmails one of the actresses as a result. For the final stage, they arranged a series of respective meetings with a number of selected online targets, and you will roll your eyes as watching how willing many of these selected targets were to go for the next stage of exploitation.
While too heavy-handed at times due to several reasons including the overbearing score by Jonatán Pastirčák, the documentary keeps holding our attention with these and many other gut-wrenching moments, and Chalupová and Klusák mercifully give us a few bright moments. There is an unexpectedly poignant scene which reminded the actresses and others on the set that there are also good and decent people on the Internet, and you will be certainly relieved a bit during a few key moments around the end of the documentary.
Although how it is about its urgent social issues is not entirely free from ethical questions and debates, I recommend “Caught in the Net” mainly for its truly disturbing emotional power on me. It is really uncomfortable to watch from the beginning to the end, but I think you must watch it especially if you are parents with young kids growing under you, and you will certainly come to have lots of things to muse on after watching this edgy documentary.