Director: William Malone
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea
Screenplay: Josephine Coyle
101 mins. Rated R for violence including grisly images of torture, nudity and language.
You have to appreciate a film that tries to be ahead of its time only to look dated from the moment it’s released. It hasn’t gotten any better either. The film I’m referring to is Feardotcom, a 2002 horror film from director William Malone (House on Haunted Hill, Creature), one of the rare films in history to earn an “F” Cinemascore. I hated this film back then, but now seemed like the right time to experience it all over again and see if it’s really that bad. Spoiler: It is.
A man has died in the New York City Subway system. His eyes were bleeding and he looked to have seen something horrible before his death. NYPD Detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff, Zoolander, Blade) and Department of Health researcher Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone, The Truman Show, Ronin) have teamed up to discover exactly what caused his death. Along their investigation, they learn that the man’s death is linked to a mysterious website, feardotcom.com. Seemingly, the website has ties to other deaths, too, all of which occurred within 48 hours of visiting the site. Now, Mike and Terry must discover the secrets of the site and work to stop the next death from coming.
Now having seen the film twice, I’m sure there’s a workable narrative within Feardotcom, but it definitely isn’t in the finished product. Rather, the film feels like an amalgam of ideas better utilized in previous films. It’s a copycat killer of a movie, never reaching the heights of the various films it has borrowed from. Director Malone stated that his number one priority was to create a “nightmare” look for the film, and some of the visuals work here, while I’m sure others looked better when the film was released but have since aged rather poorly. The most notable of these visuals comes from the titular website. It looks cheesy, the animation is very old stylistically, and the finished product is perhaps the least frightening element of the film. When your central horror prop is a killer website, you need to make sure it looks good. This is a case where that’s not even remotely successful.
Then, there’s the name of the site. When producers decided to make a movie called feardotcom, the idea was to purchase the rights to Fear.com as a domain name as it was already owned. When the owners of Fear.com informed them that they would not sell these rights for any amount of money, producers aimed to purchase the rights to feardotcom.com, and the film ended up utilizing that address in the script. It’s a dumb idea, made to sound even dumber, and you can say that I’m nitpicking here, but again, we are talking about the central plot device of the film, and you go with feardotcom.com? You didn’t think to change the website’s name to death.com or murder.com or something that you might be able to pay off the domain holder’s for? Again, sure, this is nitpicky, but every time feardotcom.com came through my head, I had to hold back a giggle because it’s just so damn stupid.
Stephen Dorff and Natascha McElhone have solid enough chemistry to make the central characters workable enough. It really boils down to not having enough for them to do. We keep jumping to these scenes featuring Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, Interview with the Vampire) as Alistair, an abductor and torturer with the promise that all the stuff we are seeing him do is going to be important to the plot, and it really isn’t It merely adds another layer to a nonsensical narrative. If Dorff and McElhone had more to do, and we focused less on Rea (I get it, he is one of Malone’s favorite actors so he wanted to give him more screentime, but its needless because characters serve story and he doesn’t), we might have a more coherent story, one worth seeing.
Feardotcom is a bad movie. It’s story is problematic, it’s characters not given enough to be interesting, and the film is full of things we’ve seen before. It’s a cake baked with expired ingredients. It’s a movie so thoroughly boring that I’m shocked I made it through a second viewing all these years later. It’s terrible. In fact, I would wonder why the website isn’t shit.com.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of William Malone’s House on Haunted Hill, click here.