Caught In The Net is a disturbing and gut-wrenching documentary that reveals the sinister child predators that lurk within the internet’s underbelly. As gruesome and uncomfortable as a social experiment like this is, Czech documentarians Vít Klusák and Barbora Chalupová highlight why it’s crucial.
A freedom of information request from 42 police forces in England and Wales found 5,441 Sexual Communication with a Child offences recorded between April 2020 and March 2021 – an increase of around 70% from recorded crimes in 2017/18. And almost half of the offences used Facebook-owned apps, including Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.
Caught In The Net successfully takes statistics like this, which the public can quickly become desensitised to, and humanises the data into a harrowing watch.
The documentary follows three actresses, Tereza Těžká, Anezka Pithartová, and Sabina Dlouhá, all aged 18 or older, portraying 12-year-old girls online. The crew compiled memorabilia from the women’s childhoods and created three replicas of little girls’ bedrooms. Aside from the fake names assigned to each actress, the line between truth and façade is blurred once the fishing for predators online begins.
A code of conduct appears on the screen, laying out eight rules, which vary from the actresses must only respond and never approach anyone first, to ‘no flirting, seducing or provoking’. The code also explains that ‘psychologists, sexologists, lawyers and criminal investigators’ were consulted during the project. What follows over the 10 days is an expose of more than 2,458 sexual predators that the three women have to filter with resilience while maintaining a childlike and naive exterior that revoltingly appeases these paedophiles.
The incredible actresses take a utilitarian approach to this project and subject themselves to the salacious exploitation of men online. They’re bombarded with unsolicited nudes and child pornography videos while enduring the heavy turmoil that comes with tantalising predators. Yet, despite the knowledge that child predators are indulging in their bodies and performed naivety, the actresses rarely break character – a testament to their talent and dedication to the injustice.
The documentary doubles as a realist horror with abrupt reels of pixelated nude photos accompanied with intense, raucous music playing out like jump scare. The blurred faces and pixels hide the graphic imagery but reveals the sickening obscenity within every exchange. The film unnervingly but necessarily removes the mental barrier that allows a viewer to dissacociate from the horrific reality of child abuse, forcing the audience to confront the unimaginable head-on.
The first half of ‘Caught In The Net’ sets itself up for an opportunity to explore the psychological impact that online abuse can have on a child. Or, even the effect this project had on the actresses who, rather than playing fictitious characters, immersed younger versions of themselves into the traumatic territory. Instead, the documentary repeatedly revels in video chat conversations that present nothing more than the obvious moral message that the audience became aware of early in the film. The documenatairans could have better utlisied the professional psychologists and lawyers they hired to provide a crucial exploration into the minds of the victims or predators. Unfortunately, the few ‘gotcha moments’ barely compensate for the psychological torture the cast and crew endured, with an ending absent of legal justice or even a slither of catharsis.
Regardless of its flaws, the harrowing documentary is grounded in the devastating reality experienced by too many children. So, in a society that silences this subject matter for being too taboo, ‘Caught In The Net’ is the necessary loud noise we need to hear.
Caught In The Net is available on Digital Download from 7 February 2022.
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