Nowadays, everyone is connected to their phones. It is impossible to imagine a life without technology since people’s routines depend on a small rectangular screen. But what happens when someone on the other side hacks your phone and watches your every move? Kim Tae-joon’s Unlocked unveils a thriller that follows a young girl whose life is turned upside down. The movie uses the fear of digital surveillance to drive the story forward, but certain aspects feel disconnected.
After a night out of drinking, Nami (Chun Woo-hee) falls asleep on the bus and loses her smartphone. A young man on the bus takes her phone, who happens to be a serial killer. When she wakes up the next day, she gets a call from a young woman about her phone being sent to a repair shop. The young man, Jun-yeong (Im Si-wan), pretends to be a woman and speaks to Nami using pre-recorded audio to talk to her. At the store, Jun-yeong disguises himself with a mask and a hat to completely hides his face. Nami arrives at the store to collect and repair her phone. Instead, Jun-yeong installs spyware to track her everyday life, passwords, financial records, and messages with her best friend. His mission is to isolate Nami from her friends and father and destroy her life. When police detective, Ji-man (Kim Hie-won) finds evidence of Jun-yeong at a murder scene, he begins to secretly investigate his son’s involvement and find his next victim before it’s too late.
Unlocked has the elements to make a perfect thriller movie. Many murder mysteries follow serial killers stalking their victims using digital surveillance. However, it fails to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. The lack of character development, especially Nami, designed as a side character with gullible instincts, suddenly turns into the main protagonist with sharp instincts to take Jun-yeong down. Nami’s connection with her father and best friend is barely explored.
Moreover, this problem is present in Ji-man’s connection with Jun-yeong. The movie suggests that the police detective’s son is responsible for the murders. In the first act, Ji-man secretly finds his son’s apartment and records a massive amount of evidence but never submits it to the police. Perhaps it might be the instinct to save and find his son due to their seven-year estrangement; however, the Unlocked never explores it.
As the story progresses, it’s clear that this connection between Ji-man and Jun-yeong is an attempt to generate shock in the audience. The problem is that too many ideas and themes collide together. The movie could’ve worked well if it solely focused on the ‘stalker plot.’ But when Nami’s revenge and Ji-man’s secret investigation come together in the third act, along with the unpredictable twist, the movie scrambles to conclude with a cohesive ending. The lack of character exploration leaves a bitter taste and leaves the audience unable to connect emotionally with Nami and Ji-man.
Unlocked doesn’t bring any new ideas to the dangers of digital surveillance. Instead, the movie loses focus on the character’s journey and the narrative, which fails to mesh them all together at the end. Kim uses the point-of-view shots of Nami’s phone to perceive as if the audience (and Jun-yeong) is watching her all the time; she scrolls through her phone, texts her friends, and travels everywhere. This technique builds tension and lets the audience understand the lack of boundaries intensifies the movie’s plot. It’s elements like this that have the potential to be a great thriller, but it doesn’t sufficiently explore everything. While it may have some faults, Unlocked brings an unnerving fear that the audience might question ever posting their information on social media.