Directed by William Malone. UK/Germany/Luxembourg. 2002.

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As a critic, my job is seldom made simpler then when I am delivering a review where one word can send out an all encompassing description to my audience. Minority Report? Brilliant. 40 Days and 40 Nights? Atrocious. If forced to pick one word to describe Fear Dot Com I would definitely choose dark. Not dark in the sense of a gothic, morbid atmosphere. Dark in the sense that 90% of the film occurs in the pitch black. I’m not a marketing genius by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me that when attempting to sell a girl on a movie who’s subject matter will make it primarily attended by boys, the thing to do would be to emphasize it’s non-disgusting parts. In this case that would be Stephen Dorff. So, I would think that as a cinematographer you would want to draw in the girls by illuminating  Mr. Dorff, a certified chick magnet, by any means at your disposal throughout the film (here I am thinking of searchlights) not obscure him to the point where those female audience members you sucked in with the trailers are saying “I think that’s Stephen Dorff.......But it might be Rick Moranis......I can’t tell.....”

Fear Dot Com. All Rights Reserved.Fear Dot Com chronicles Mike Reilly’s hunt for ‘The Doctor,” a psychopath who kidnaps young girls and murders them for the amusement of subscribers to www.feardotcom.com. The number of subscribers start to lessen when viewing the site turns out to be fatal; 48 hours after you log on, you die. 

Stephen Dorff (Cecil B. Demented, Backbeat) plays the determined Reilly. Dorff is a Hollywood oddity. Never before have I run into an actor who is so FIERCELY admired, but for no particular work. Emily, (who possesses the largest amount of Dorff memorabilia on the earth) falls into this category. When I pressed her about whether or not she enjoyed Dorff’s work she stated “Oh YES!! He is just about the cutest thing going! And he is SUCH a GOOD actor too!!” When I asked her which of his movies she particularly enjoyed she said “Oh....you know.....his movies.....they’re all good.” Though Dorff did make a reasonably OK police officer, and has moments of Jack Nicholson intensity (in those few moments where I could make him out through the gloom that is) I just never warmed up to his character. There’s no history given on Dorff’s policeman, no personality ever developed. There’s a stab at a romantic development with his female partner, but even that isn’t handled with any kind of depth. Dorff, in his indie film element is among the cream of the crop. Fear Dot Com’s poor writing doesn’t do him justice.

Fear Dot Com. All Rights Reserved.Natascha McElhone (the upcoming Solaris) plays the token female character (I’m not being facetious, I was actually waiting for “Token Female Character” to appear beside her name in the end credits) Terry Houston, medical examiner. As she spends the majority of the film seemingly confused, waiting for all the men in the picture to explain things to her, Houston never develops into a character that I considered rooting for. With next to no personality, her desperate launch at the first single guy she meets, and all of her smarts ignored this will definitely not be the role that turns the tide of horror movie women being insipid twits. I think my annoyance level hit it’s peak at this medical examiner’s constant surprise that people kept dying after being shot in the chest several times, jumping out of 12 story windows to a cement sidewalk, etc. Her expression seemed to be constantly saying “Who would have thought it? 15 bullets in the heart, and dead? What a surprise!” I was frankly glad for the darkness obscuring her scenes. She was a total disappointment. 

Bad writing, awful lighting, and lack of acting aside, Fear Dot Com suffers from poor decision making skills. I don’t think this movie ever once decided what genre it wanted to be. It alternates wildly from film noir, to horror, to drama, to horror and that really detracts from it’s overall effectiveness as the audience is never allowed to settle in to an appropriate frame of mind for the movie. There are moments in this film that might have been truly scary. If only we could have a) seen them or b) not have had them overwhelmed by badly attempted art film montages. Nobody wants to pay hard earned money to watch a china doll throw up. After watching Fear Dot Com I am even more entrenched in my opinion that Signs director M. Night Shyamalan should teach a class to all aspiring suspense/horror directors and make the point through any means possible that the scariest things in films, are the things that are left to the imagination. Fear Dot Com director William Malone would do well to attend. 

Jen Johnston
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