Plot: What’s it about?
Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) is a veteran police officer in New York, so he’s seen just about every kind of crime known to man. But he is haunted by one case he was never able to solve, one which has now been handed to the feds to handle. The case involved a man known as The Doctor (Stephen Rea), who would torture, mutilate, and eventually murder young women, all while being filmed and sending out the images live over the internet. Reilly has a new concern now however, as a string of bodies have turned up with peculiar circumstances, all the faces locked in a look of sheer terror, while blood ran from the eyes. He calls in Terry Houston (Natascha McElhone) from the Department of Health, but she dismisses it as being a known virus, though soon, her boss also falls victim to the same death. A link sought between the deaths, but the only one seems to be the presence of a computer in each, so an expert is brought in to search the systems and find out what the owners had in common. As it turns out, all the victims had signed on to a website called FearDotCom and after they’d seen what it offered, they wound up dead forty-eight hours later, to the minute. The site was once used by The Doctor, so Reilly logs on finds himself now with only two days to solve the mystery, or end up the next victim. But can he and Houston figure out this complex, brutal case in time to save themselves, and perhaps The Doctor’s next patient, or will they just be the next to turn up dead?
As this film was directed by William Malone (who helmed the remake of House on Haunted Hill, as well as genre picture Creature), I expected another average horror movie, one with lots of style, but little else to depend on. As it turns out, I was partially right in my assumption, but Malone has left the overly hip approach behind and with FearDotCom, he has crafted a straightforward horror picture and his best movie to this point. FearDotCom has lots of plot holes and drops in logic, as well as a storyline that borrows much from Hideo Nakata’s Ring, but thanks to Malone’s visual flashes, its hard to take your eyes off the screen. In truth, Malone has created a visual masterpiece with FearDotCom, amping up his efforts from his previous works and really focusing on atmosphere, which is crucial in any horror movie, of course. So while the storyline has some issues, you won’t notice most of the time, because the visuals immerse you inside the world of the movie, plus the atmosphere is so eerie at times, its hard to knock the flaws. The final act is almost flawless also, with some amazing atmosphere and the film’s best & most disturbing visuals. If the entire film could have functioned on that same level, FearDotCom would have been one hell of a picture. But even as it stands, it is highly recommended to horror & thriller fans who can overloook some logic gaps in favor of tense atmosphere and dark, masterful visuals.
As I said above, its obvious that FearDotCom was inspired by the Japanese horror phenomenon known as Ring, as not only are some basic plot devices taken from that picture, but the main lead also seems heavily based from that material. We start off the movie with a male as the supposed lead, but soon after, we see that Natascha McElhone is our featured worker. Yes, she often shares screen time with her male costar, but the same is true of Ring, where a man and woman work together to try to solve the supernatural events. As I always like to see McElhone on screen, I was pleased to see she worked on this movie and when I saw she had a substantial role, I knew she could enhance the material. And she does just that, bringing solid emotion into the part and showing that she can handle larger roles, even when she often just uses her facial expressions and body language, as she does here at times. Other films with McElhone include The Truman Show, City of Ghosts, Ronin, and Love’s Labour’s Lost. The cast also includes Stephen Dorff (Deuces Wild, Space Truckers), Stephen Rea (Interview with the Vampire, The Company of Wolves), and Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners).
Video: How does it look?
FearDotCom is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This movie is very, very dark and makes minimal use of color, so expect a dank, monochromatic visual experience in this case. But that proves an excellent backdrop for the events within the movie, so it was vital that this transfer shine and in the end, it surpassed all of my expectations. The print is pristine and never holds back the visuals, though some intentional grain and marks can be seen in some instances, but these are supposed to be present, so no need for concern. As I mentioned, bright colors have no home in FearDotCom, so outside of blacks, whites, browns, and greys, don’t expect the spectrum to be full showcase. The contrast is flawless also, with razor sharp black levels that make sure the images look just as they were intended. In a movie this dark, you need top flight contrast to make sure the visual detail is accurate and in this case, it is perfectly rendered. A reference level treatment to be sure, yet another feather in Warner’s transfer cap here.
Audio: How does it sound?
I’ve spoken a lot about this movie’s visuals, but the audio also packs some power, as evidenced in the included Dolby Digital 5.1 track. The eerie atmosphere seen here wouldn’t be as effective without some creepy audio, which we have here in spades. I love the way the rain sounds here, but that’s just one example of the superb audio found in this soundtrack. The surrounds drive home the tense, spooky texture of the material with skill, thanks to some not only good powerful presence, but superb use of the subtle touches. The music comes through well also, while dialogue is clean and crisp throughout. This disc also includes a French language option, as well as subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The main extra here is an audio commentary track, in which director William Malone and director of photography Christian Sebaldt discuss the production. The session is informative, as we learn about the visual approach, which is the main element in FearDotCom. This is by no means an all technical session, but most of the dialogue is focused on the visuals. This disc also includes a deleted scene, a brief behind the scenes featurette, a selection of production stills, some talent files, and the film’s theatrical trailer.