Pull the plug on FeardotCom
A stubborn, by no means stupid, friend once took the untenable position that since “The Bonnie Parker Story,” a low-budget quickie pitched at the drive-ins of the day, and the classic “Bonnie and Clyde” were both about the same trashy woman, neither could have more value than the other.
Using such criteria, “FeardotCom” must be in a class with “Silence of the Lambs,” “Seven,” “1984,” “Don’t Look Now,” “Nosferatu” and “Creepshow’s” cockroach segment, all great bone-chillers from which it has lifted images, plot points and stylistic fragments.
Josephine Coyle’s severely logic-impaired screenplay, from a Moshe Diamant story, defeats even the most enthusiastic effort to navigate it.
According to a lot of back-and-forth between health researcher Terry Houston (Natascha McElhone) and cop Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff), a serial killer is dispatching someone every two days. To the minute.
Or torturing them until they plead for death, at which time he begins a ritualistic autopsy on the living.
Or they leap in front of a subway or out a window, eyes bleeding.
The hero and heroine know the psychotic fruitcake is Alistair Pratt (Stephen Rea), a medical school reject, but instead of chasing him down in ways remotely related to reality, each does precisely what they know all the victims made the fatal mistake of doing.
Every victim had logged onto the Web site www.feardotcom.com and, depending on when they started gawking, either got zapped by demonic energy that penetrated their brains and played on their worst fears (drowning, car crashes, cockroaches) or watched Alistair slice-‘n’- dice the living.
Pardon, but this does not qualify as a cautionary fable.
Director William Malone stages the action with an infuriating inconsistency, with the usual over-reliance on quick editing and cockeyed angles to camouflage canyons in logic and rudimentary sensible behavior.
He shot the whole thing on rainy nights in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg in a primitive looking monochrome, but “FeardotCom” qualifies neither as film noir nor, except to the most generous-spirited, as German Expressionism (on degraded film stock, no less).
Much of the movie looks like a hallucinogenic nightmare (a cliche by 1968). It’s a midnight movie gone awry with dialogue that doesn’t fit (“You seem like you were expecting me”) or is overbearing (“We will provide a lesson that reducing relationships to an anonymous electronic impulse is a perversion”).
The heroine, in irrational mode, consistently imposes herself on others without ever identifying herself or mentioning her job credentials or explaining her need. But she always gets access.
Nothing gets sorted out, of course, no matter how badly the plumbing gets backed up with contradictions. No one ever takes sound advice or behaves plausibly or makes any sort of oral or written history of what’s going on. We’re in “Scream” hell here.
As exasperation wells up, you can only conclude “FeardotCom” was not designed to be watched at 1 p.m. with a clear head. Which is what I did with the only other six people who attended a Friday afternoon premiere.
Director: William Malone
Stars: Natascha McElhone, Stephen Dorff, Stephen Rea
MPAA Rating: R for grisly images of torture, nudity and language