Combustible Celluloid
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With: Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea, Udo Kier, Amelia Curtis, Jeffrey Combs, Nigel Terry, Gesine Cukrowski, Michael Sarrazin, Jana Guttgemanns, Anna Thalbach, Siobhan Flynn
Written by: Josephine Coyle, based on a story by Moshe Diamant
Directed by: William Malone
MPAA Rating: R for violence including grisly images of torture, nudity and language
Running Time: 101
Date: 08/09/2002

Feardotcom (2002)

1 Star (out of 4)

Keep This Site Unseen

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I make it a practice not to walk out on bad movies. Usually I just sit there and get mad. But I know I'm stuck in a really, really bad one when my thoughts turn to questions like "how did this thing ever get made?" and "what in the heck were these people thinking?" It wasn't very long before I asked myself those questions while watching Feardotcom, a new horror movie opening today in Bay Area theaters. I normally love horror films, and I was looking forward to Feardotcom, even though the buzz was mostly bad. I recently sat through the DVD for Graveyard Shift (1990), which has to be one of the flat-out worst horror films ever made -- completely inept, not in the least scary. But I loved it; I had a ball. I was sure I could stand up to whatever Feardotcom had to throw at me.

I was wrong.

Feardotcom invents a whole new kind of bad. When you see it, you don't get chills or tingles. You don't laugh at its stupidity or make fun of it. You just feel kind of sick inside, like having a hangover without the pleasure of having been drunk. In the film, Stephen Dorff (Blade, Cecil B. DeMented) plays a young police detective named Mike who stumbles upon a rash of gruesome deaths, characterized by a bleeding around the eyes. Cult actor Udo Kier (Shadow of the Vampire, Dancer in the Dark) appears as the first victim. Mike and his obnoxious partner, Styles (Jeffrey Combs, from the great horror classic Re-Animator), investigate a death scene and run into Terry (Natascha McElhone, Ronin), a researcher for the Department of Heath. Naturally, the movie sets up Mike and Terry for some kind of heavy romance, but we don't get any chemistry of any kind -- only a kiss on the forehead.

With about two-dozen clues laid out in front of them, Mike and Terry eventually make the connection that all the victims were looking at something on their computers. Mike asks a computer genius friend named Denise (Amelia Curtis) to look at their burnt hard drives to find the answer. Apparently, everyone who dies has been looking at a Web site called (that's right, two "coms"). I guess some people go there to watch an evil creep named Alistair (Stephen Rea, seriously slumming) torture young blonde girls, though we never actually see any of this when the Web site is shown to us. Denise suddenly gets all jittery and starts seeing cockroaches everywhere. Mike and Terry have figured out that it takes 48 hours to die after looking at the site, even though Denise dies sooner than that.

If you think that's the only thing that doesn't add up, you've got another think coming. So what happens next? Terry makes Mike promise that he won't look at the site, and he does. Then Mike makes Terry promise that she won't look at the site and she does. Fortunately, they both live long enough to find an ending to the story. Although that's putting it mildly. I can't really call this much of a "story" and finding an "end" to it is a stretch at best. The story makes so little sense that when it finally wraps up, we're relieved, but we still don't have a sense of closure. Even if the story did make sense, the ending is ludicrous.

Director William Malone, who made one of the worst Alien rip-offs of all time with Creature (1985), as well as the 1999 House on Haunted Hill remake, assaults us with Feardotcom. He basically throws every digital twitch and celluloid blip he can find -- edited at lightning speed -- at us to make us uncomfortable and make us feel as if we were hallucinating. To make matters worse, no matter where the characters go in the city (I guess it's supposed to be New York) everyone has their lights turned down to a dull glow -- in the hospital, the morgue, the police station, an elevator, people's apartments, etc. It's supposed to be mood lighting, I suppose, but the relentless grayness and brownness gets oppressive and hurts your eyes. You want someone, for the love of Pete, to just turn on a light! Not to mention that, for the sake of atmosphere, the police station resides at the top of about seven flights of stairs. In one scene, Denise climbs up to deliver her computer results to Mike while chased by cockroaches. Wouldn't it be on the ground floor, or wouldn't there be an elevator?

How about the performances? Dorff comes out the best, but only by comparison. Malone directs the actors as if they each had a brand new personality from scene to scene. Terry goes from being brave to scared to smart to dumb in a matter of minutes. And poor Rea (so good in movies like The Butcher Boy) can barely deliver his lines, much less convey anything that remotely resembles a character. I guess in the end, it's enough to say that the whole movie is an abrasive, oppressive, unpleasant attack. I haven't felt this beaten and drained after a film in a long time.

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