review by Gregory Avery, 30 August 2002
In the scare thriller
Feardotcom, Stephen Dorff, as a New York City police detective,
and a dazed-looking Natasha McElhone, as a Department of Health
inspector, look into a series of strange murders which leads them to
a haunted website, where visitors, once they've "entered," start
hallucinating like mad and become so scared that they experience
adrenaline rushes strong enough to cause them to die within 48
hours. There is also a mystery to be solved connected to the
website, and a vengeful ghost, but what the mystery is and the steps
that are required to solve it are long in coming.
The picture has been filmed in
mildew-darks, a sort of modern Medieval look (if it doesn't quite
look like New York City in the film, that's because it was actually
made in Montreal and Luxembourg), and it has more rain puddles
inside, rather than outside, of buildings since Blade Runner.
The film also shamelessly swipes the little girl with the bouncing
white ball from Fellini's Toby Dammit, and bits and pieces
from Seven and Silence of the Lambs (and, from the
looks of it in one scene, the hotel room "clue" scene in The Last
of Sheila), plus a whole lot of Hideo Nakata's The Ring,
which also included a ghost, a mystery, and a lethal time limit,
only without Nakata's ability to generate suspense and scares
without resorting to shock effects. Trying to create an atmosphere
of total terror (and hell-bent on making a potential cult film by
any means possible), the filmmakers of Feardotcom alternate
between some meticulously realized and executed computer imagery and
some of the darkest cinematography I've ever seen in an American
film -- we're reduced to peering into the gloom, waiting to see what
grotesquery is going to be served up, or flung in our faces, next.
(Some of which fly by so fast you can't make them out, and you
probably don't want to make them out.)
And there are some gratuitous, and
inexcusable, scenes of torture featuring Stephen Rea, who, in an
increasingly unwatchable performance, quotes Joseph Stalin while
toying with bound, gagged, nude young women by wafting a scalpel
through the air and over their helpless flesh, while a video camera
streams the whole thing onto the Internet. People need to be
punished for "watching," his character says, but I'm wondering what
Stephen Rea, whose given some fine performances, both onstage and in
film, over the past two decades, is doing spouting the type of
blather you'd expect to see coming from a fifth-rate actor on some
late-night movie on Cinemax. His character, at least, gets one doozy
of a sendoff before the end of the picture.
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires parent
or adult guardian..