Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák’s documentary Caught in the Net is the stuff of literal nightmares as they have three actresses pretending to be 12-year-olds on the internet. A thoroughly depressing yet vital film, we see our worst fears for adolescents thrown at our faces. A compelling, difficult and disturbing, you are truly unprepared for what you watch.
There were three actresses, three children’s rooms, ten days, and 2,458 sexual predators. Three over-18 actresses are tasked with pretending they are 12 years old on fake social network profiles. In faithful copies of children’s rooms created in a film studio, they chat and Skype with men of all ages who have searched for and contacted them online, all the while secretly monitored by the production team, psychologists, and legal advisors.
Our filmmakers take great care in Caught in the Net to ensure that the actresses and even those who merely auditioned are fully aware of what they are to expect. However, even in those opening minutes, as the actresses reveal their past, you are shocked at how many have been or attempted to be groomed. Perhaps this coming from the male perspective renders more surprise at what goes on than it would from a female critic, but it is astonishingly difficult to comprehend how widespread this is.
The three fantastic actresses are also seen as collaborators here as early on; they discuss with the production team what types of profiles or the exact mindset a 12-year-old would be in during these chats. As they are young adults, they are closer to their past selves than the filmmakers and, as such, can assist more with what their character would do, even with the very stringent codes of conduct that they have to follow. This just shows how prepared Chalupová and Klusák are for their film, and somehow, even they are shocked at how quickly the girls are propositioned or sent inappropriate messages. An example of this is that within 5 minutes of creating a profile, 16 messages are sent in one character’s way. Such a grim overload causes you to just watch, mouth agape in horror at what is happening.
What makes Caught in the Net a vital and must watch documentary is that it highlights all of our worst fears, especially for parents who have children that age or even coming near to that age. This is what children are getting confronted with when they go online, and the sheer speed and volume in which they receive these unsolicited messages is unimaginable. It is made clear to the actresses to remain neutral and not flirt or lead the men to do or say anything. By doing so, it snares these men into showing their authentic selves (all camera footage blurs out the men’s faces bar their eyes and teeth and blurs out the many penis shots that the men show the actresses).
The use of psychologists etc., to help the actresses understand the mindset of the men, so they are as prepared as possible for what comes their way is a wonderful and important touch. Not only are the professionals informing the actresses, but they are also informing us and letting us know why they do what they do. As the women are presented with man after man communicating with them, the cutaways to the production teams reaction echo perfectly our own as we watch Caught in the Net.
Nothing can prepare them for what unravels here time after time, especially when the crew can find out that one of the men works with children and how unrelenting he is to make this supposed 12 year old remove her top. It causes shudders down your spine to know how in danger children are out there.
The team go to great lengths to trick the men as they have models pose naked or topless and then alter the photos to have their breasts reduced to be more like a 12-year-old and have their heads replace those of the models. This is done so they can see if some of the men will try and blackmail the girls or post the photos up elsewhere, further trapping them. These moments are difficult to watch as the filmmakers talk to a children’s crisis centre director to see how likely it is that girls this age would voluntarily send such pictures. By highlighting such instances and the reasoning behind the child’s decision to send the photo’s, we see how predatory the men are. For the vast majority of us, we have no idea how people groom the young (or anyone), so seeing it so expertly explained with clear examples thanks to the actresses is essential.
Finally, a word needs to be said for the three actresses, Sabina Dlouhá, Anezka Pithartová and Tereza Tezká. They are astonishing actresses and people for going through the barrage of messages and horrible conversations they had to endure. It can be easy just solely to focus on the documentary itself, but without those three actresses carrying on the ruse in the way they do, you wouldn’t get half of what we have here.
Caught in the Net is such an important film that it needs to be seen as wide an audience possible. As much as it shocks us to see what goes on behind a closed child’s door, it educates us to help make our own or future children aware of what danger resides on the internet. It is easy to say the internet is dangerous, but for it to almost assault you with how rife this world is strikes home—an impossible documentary to ignore.
Caught In The Net will be available on Digital Download from 7th February
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