From William Malone, the man behind the eye-popping remake of House on Haunted Hill, comes this disjointed, confusing and convoluted shocker that also manages to boast the same style that made Malone’s previous chiller so effective on consecutive viewings.
The meandering narrative focuses on a website known as feardot.com and the deaths, apparently connected, of four New Yorkers within 48 hours of logging on to it. The grisly deaths – a succession of Grand Guignol setpieces scattered across this dismal, rainy metropolis – are lumped together for investigation by Detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff slumming it) and health inspector Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone, ditto). Together they delve deep into a forbidden universe of contaminated souls and shocking imagery, with each step bringing them closer to the horrifying counter-reality of feardot.com and a terrifying confrontation with a crazed killer known as The Doctor (Stephen Rea, rarely seen and then mostly in shadow).
As a horror movie FearDotCom is occasionally mightily effective, but audiences looking for a cerebral subtext amidst its slayings and severed body parts will be disappointed. Instead Malone and his cast – which includes horror icons Udo Kier and Jeffrey Combs in cameo roles – concentrate on the gore and shocks, working hard to give this flick the same mood and visceral charge as its predecessor.
They don’t always succeed. FearDotCom is clumsy and slow, suffering from the restraints of a weak script – “What did this guy see to leave an expression like that?” says a gobsmacked Dorff as a victim is mown down by a tube train – and listless performances.
Dorff wanders through the film – a combination of My Little Eye, The Ring and Seven – with a look of bewilderment throughout, McElhone abandons any pretence of being anything other than the standard screaming female victim, and Combs embraces every cliché going as Dorff’s grungy cop partner.
Yet there are moments when FearDotCom really ups the ante in the horror stakes. A spate of victims with an Ebola-type virus, dying messily as blood streams from their eyes, ears and nose, makes for unsettling viewing, while the frequent appearances of an albino child, bouncing a large white ball, are harbingers of the dread to come.
FearDotCom is what’s known as “a good bad film” in that there are numerous impressive elements that buoy up an otherwise lacklustre movie. Sadly, there aren’t enough to save it. If Seven had been a bad movie instead of a great one, FearDotCom would have been it.
Star rating: **