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Film / The Net (1995)

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Identity theft is hell.

"Just think about it. Our whole world is sitting there on a computer. It's in the computer, everything: your, your DMV records, your, your social security, your credit cards, your medical records. It's all right there. Everyone is stored in there. It's like this little electronic shadow on each and every one of us, just, just begging for someone to screw with, and you know what? They've done it to me, and you know what? They're gonna do it to you."
Angela Bennett

The Net is a 1995 techno-thriller film starring Sandra Bullock and directed by Irwin Winkler.

Angela Bennett (Bullock) is an unassuming, nerdy computer analyst and reclusive loner who works from home, helping her company debug games and other software. She becomes embroiled in an intricate conspiracy when her co-worker sends her a disk of security software called "Gatekeeper", containing a secret backdoor into various government agencies, hospitals and any computer system Gatekeeper supposedly protects. This makes Angela a target of the Praetorians, a dangerous group of hackers who use their manipulation of everything online to kill or ruin the lives of anyone who threatens them.

Bennett becomes a wanted fugitive when her identity is replaced with that of a known criminal, her credit cards rendered null, her car stolen and her house sold without her knowledge. With everyone believing she is someone she is not, and a charming assassin on her tail, Bennett can only count on her former therapist, Dr. Alan Champion (Dennis Miller), to protect her and ensure her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, is safe. It will take all of her skill and wits to uncover the real identity and motives of the Praetorians and bring down the conspiracy before they have undetectable access to every major computer system.

A TV series adaptation aired on USA Network for one season (1998–99), turning the film's plot into an episodic narrative pitting runaway Angela against the Praetorians, a cyber-terrorist organization that makes her a target of the FBI by swapping her identity with one of the 10 Most Wanted List. A Direct to Video sequel (in actuality the same premise under different circumstances), The Net 2.0, was made in 2006, about a female computer analyst who gets her identity stolen while in Istanbul.

The Net provides examples:

  • Action Survivor: Crosses over into Action Girl towards the end, but for the most part Angela is flung into the mayhem and caught unawares.
  • Artistic License – Engineering: An IP address is shown as "23.75.345.200", but IPv4 addresses can't contain numbers higher than 255.
  • Batman Gambit: Angela emails the FBI, blowing the lid off the conspiracy, so Devlin hacks the FBI to get rid of the email. Knowing he would do this, Angela puts a disk in the computer containing a virus she found early in the movie, which Devlin triggers when he hacks the FBI, destroying all elements of Gatekeeper.
  • Big Bad: Jeff Gregg, the Corrupt Corporate Executive that orchestrates web attacks to make people buy his backdoor-enabling program.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: The (then-) new version of it, where Internet means Everything Is Online, is the central concept of the film.
  • Captain Ersatz: Jeff Gregg for Bill Gates, down to the fear of his programs enabling him to hack everything in the world.
  • Cassette Futurism: This film was made and released on the late stage of Real Life computer technology wherein this trope takes inspiration from. The MacGuffin that ruins Angela's life is a floppy, the Internet is still beheld as some kind of magic network inhabited only by conspiracy theorists and conspiracy members, and the most advanced computers are huge.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The disk containing the virus used to bring down Gatekeeper.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: Towards the end of the movie, Angela has the news on and literally every single story on it is conveniently related to Angela's plot line.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: A computer disk with a virus is colored red.
  • Computer Virus: The main character is a computer programmer who collects the viruses that she combats.
  • Conspiracy Thriller: Exploiting the brand-new Paranoia Fuel of The '90s — the Internet!
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jeff Gregg. He wants control over everything and has created Gatekeeper with a deliberate backdoor for his conspiracy to exploit, as well as orchestrated a situation that will hopefully make people buy his program.
  • The Cracker: The Big Bad aka Jeff Gregg, leader of the Praetorians.
  • Cyberbullying: Angela becomes marked for murder when she discovers that the Gatekeeper anti-virus software also allows back-door access to any system running it. When a hired hitman fails to kill Angela, the evil Praetorians tamper with Angela's identity, making her into a wanted fugitive with no credit and no finances.
  • Disney Villain Death: Devlin's demise, crashing with the roller cage of a forklift a couple of floors down like a sack of flour. Ouch.
  • Driven to Suicide: Undersecretary of Defense Michael Bergstrom, when told that he has AIDS. His medical records were changed to make it look like he did.
  • Evil Brit: Devlin. A purely remorseless assassin.
  • Everything Is Online: The film explores and dissects the over-reliance of computers in important facets of modern society. Angela Bennett bemoans this point when talking to her provided attorney.
  • Extreme Graphical Representation: Actually not as gratuitous as one might think, but the effects of a computer virus are shown as pixels slowly degenerating and floating away.
  • Fanservice: What else do you call Sandra Bullock (not one known for doing this, mind you!) in a black bikini, lounging on a beach?
  • Faux Affably Evil: Devlin. He keeps treating Angela like a lover even after it's been made clear he will kill her without batting an eye and mocks her for getting those she loves killed trying to help her.
  • Fire Alarm Distraction: Angela Bennett needs to get Ruth Marx off her terminal to access her files, so she links into the building's fire control, and triggers an alarm sensor. While everyone else in the office evacuates, Angela sneaks onto Ruth's terminal to download evidence that she and Jack Devlin are Praetorians bent on installing back-door malware on almost every network in the nation.
  • He Knows Too Much: Angela and her friend killed early in the film. The worst part is, neither of them even realize it until things go to hell.
  • Her Boyfriend's Jacket: Angela Bennett wraps herself with Jack Devlin's sports coat while aboard his boat. When she finds a gun with a silencer in one pocket, she begins to suspect that Jack intends to murder her.
  • Hope Spot: The FBI Agent friend Dr. Champion mentions early in the film turns out to be a Praetorian plant (if he was the man Champion was talking about to begin with). Angela goes from hopeful to despairing to full-on furious within the space of a few (unnecessary) repeats of him asking "did you made a copy of the disk?".
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: Inverted, as Angela spends most of the film on the run, avoiding attempts to kill her and trying to find out who is out to get her and why. She finally turns the tables in the last act.
  • I Have Your Wife: Almost. Angela is pretty sure that her mother will be exploited as bait, so she begs Dr. Champion to put her somewhere safe. He does, and even if Devlin makes it clear that she can be found eventually, he and Ruth and the rest of the conspiracy are killed or otherwise disabled before they are able to.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Angela realizes that the supposed FBI agent sent to collect her is one of the bad guys when he asks her "Did you make a copy of the disc before it got ruined in Cozumel?"—something she hadn't yet told him.
  • It Amused Me: The temporary computer crashes experienced by Wall Street and LAX appear to have been caused by cyber pranksters who did it for the lulz.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Angela removes the clip from Jack's gun. Despite holding it for several minutes while he talks to her, he fails to notice the weight difference and doesn't realize that it's empty until he tries to use it.
  • "Join Us" Drone: Played for laughs in Angela's Establishing Character Moment, in which she complains to the people in her chat room that she has absolutely no life outside of the Internet and is pretty much a ghost. The other people in the chat answer her with a "you're one of us! One of us!" chant.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Angela Bennett exemplifies the idea of computers and the Internet facilitating the lifestyle of extreme reclusiveness. Her mostly solitary existence might have been a bit too solitary, to the point where her neighbor can't even vouch that she existed.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Devlin's ploy to steal Bennett's disk.
  • Medication Tampering: Dr. Alan is killed by the movie villains via hacking and changing both his pharmacy and medical computer records, causing him to receive lethal doses of medications.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Jack Devlin is not really a man you want to meet, especially if you're the person he's been hired to kill.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Especially when played by Sandra Bullock and Jeremy Northam.
  • New Media Are Evil: The film is a reaction to the dawning Information Age, and attempts to make the Internet seem all-powerful and scary.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Dr Alan Champion. He dies from insulin poisoning.
  • Oh, Crap!: Most of Angela's reactions to various things, including her house being sold, her car being stolen, her fake criminal record and so on.
  • Plot Coupon: "Give us the disk and we'll give you your life back". Too bad it melted in the Mexican sun.
  • Professional Killer: Jack Devlin is an assassin working for the Praetorians and Gregg.
  • Pursued Protagonist: And how. She's constantly on the run.
  • Rage Breaking Point: When the FBI Agent that is a friend of Champion unmasks himself as a Praetorian plant because he keeps insisting on asking Angela whether or not she copied the disk (after she already told him it's been destroyed), Angela finally has enough and after a short rant about how she's fed up, she struggles for control of the car with him, making them crash and killing him, and then runs off to search a way to destroy the conspiracy.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Any and all close-ups of a security camera panning slightly are an indication of something ominous.
  • Villainous Crush: Devlin for Angela. It doesn't stop him to try killing her, though.
  • Western Terrorists: The Praetorians are crazy hackers that destroy things for the hell of it.
  • Wrongful Accusation Insurance: An insurance policy is provided courtesy of the film's villains. While Angela commits a few crimes in her quest to her life back, she does so while her identity has been switched with one Ruth Marx — the Ruth Marx that ends up dead along with Jack Devlin at the computer fair. Once Angela undoes the identity swap, it's easy to imagine the police assigning most or all of Angela's criminal acts to Ruth and closing the case.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Jeff Gregg engineered all the cyber attacks and made it seem like this was the work of pranksters, in order to get the US Government to buy his anti-virus software to protect their system. The software was purposely engineered with a backdoor, giving Gregg the access he previously had to steal. He could still get in before, but this way is undetectable and easier and he made some money. Whether or not the software was bought, he still had the fruits of the initial attack.