Caught In The Net


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Caught In The Net
"Horrifying and the pure stuff of nightmares for any parent."

Mobile phones and internet technology are so ubiquitous these days that it's easy not to give them a second thought, even when they're in the hands of a child - but this documentary from Czech directors Barbora Chalupová and Vít Klusák comes as a sharp reminder that not all the worlds they open windows to are benign.

Even the bald facts presented via intertitles at the start of the film, which note that 41 per cent of children say they have received pornographic images online from someone, every other child chats with strangers and one in five would not refuse a meet-up, may come as a shock to some. These may be specifically Czech figures, but it's fair to assume that the picture is broadly similar in many developed countries and, in the UK, for example, in 2019, the Home Office estimated there were 80,000 people who presented a threat to children online.

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If all that sounds shocking, then what comes next in this documentary is horrifying and the pure stuff of nightmares for any parent. The documentarians, essentially, devise and mount a sting operation, hiring adult actresses - Sabina, Anezka and Tereza - who still look very young and constructing three pre-teen "bedrooms" for them before creating 12-year-old's profiles for each online. This process is clearly articulated at the start of the film, showing that all the actresses are fully aware of what they are letting themselves in for - at least in principle - and that psychologists and other professionals are also on hand to offer advice. There are ground rules regarding the clear stating that they are only 12 up front, no flirtation on the part of the women or soliciting of material and that meetings will only be arranged after persistent requests.

It's depressing to note that even before they've so much as switched on a computer for the film, many of the women who audition for the parts note that they themselves received unsolicited porn when they were children, with one revealing how close she came to a meet-up, thwarted only by her observant mother. That's nothing compared to what comes next, however, as once they're online, the trio immediately start to receive messages from predatory men, often decades older than they believe the girls to be. While, on some level, most people are doubtless aware that there are predators out there, the sheer size of the problem is made evident here, and, thanks to the cameras everywhere, we can also see that it presents an unpleasant surprise to the filmmakers as well - not least when the make-up artist recognises one of the perpetrators. It's particularly shocking, not to mention enraging, to see how blithe these men's attitudes are to sending dick pics and video to the youngsters or masturbating for the camera with no warning.

All this sounds sleazy, and the men certainly are, but while the film doesn't pull its punches in terms of showing us what the women are being sent, albeit pixelated, the careful framework established by the filmmakers ensures that the control rests with them and the actresses rather than the men. This doesn't make the content any less disturbing, as man after man attempts to groom the women, solicit naked photos and worse, but it also makes for a riveting watch as we see these sleazeballs snare themselves. The predators' faces are reduced to a blur, except for their eyes and teeth, which adds an additional level of menace, but also adds to the sense of patterns of behaviour that are revealed, from the baby steps to trying to win the "girls" over to attempts to use pictures that have been sent as a blackmailing tool for more. The documentarians also include enough footage of the women eating tea or dancing to themselves in the rooms to nudge us to remember just how many actual 12-year-olds are alone in their rooms and all too readily accessible to these sorts of men.

When one man publishes what he believes to be photos of one of the "12-year-olds" on an open forum - they are, in fact, montage images made by adults and some careful photoshop - one of the women says, "If I was 12, I'd throw myself off a bridge", again bringing home just how horrendous it would be for an actual child to be on the receiving end of any of this. For an adult, at least, there are moments of humour here, such as when a masturbating man, when innocently asked what he is doing, claims he is "polishing something" or the unexpected piece of comeuppance when a dog decides to cock its leg, unseen, on one of the predators' coats, but most of the footage leaves you aghast at how open and disgusting the men's behaviour is. The level of freedom they believe they enjoy is further emphasised by a series of meet-ups that is arranged towards the end of the film, with one confrontation illustrating Herculean levels of denial on behalf of one man. This is inevitably skewed towards those who groom girls - for one thing, it would doubtless be considerably tougher to find adult men who can still look and sound 12 - but the film does note that boys are also frequently targeted. Sometimes difficult to watch, Caught In The Net is nevertheless taut and compelling and a stark warning for parents and guardians everywhere. Those wishing to find out more about keeping kids safe online, might find the NSPCC's advice a good place to start.

Reviewed on: 01 Jul 2021
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Caught In The Net packshot
Joined on the soundstage by psychological and legal experts, the film crew unpacks the manipulative tactics that these child predators employ online, and illustrates how quickly such interactions often escalate to threats and blackmail.

Director: Barbora Chalupová, Vít Klusák

Writer: Barbora Chalupová, Vít Klusák

Starring: Sabina Dlouhá, Anezka Pithartová, Tereza Tezká, Sabina Dlouhá, Anezka Pithartová, Tereza Tezká

Year: 2020

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: Czech Republic


Black Nights 2020

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