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5 Nice idea, poor execution

Why can't anyone make a decent movie about the Internet? And when did Hollywood lose its ability to deal with the darker reaches of the human psyche without resorting to mindless voyeurism? Those are some of the questions that come to mind after seeing Feardotcom. The basic premise of the movie is promising enough. A number of people have died in mysterious circumstances in New York City, and the only thing that they seem to have in common is that they all visited the same website prior to their untimely demise. The website in question is Feardotcom, which functions as a sort of live snuff movie with a distinct sadomasochistic tinge to it. With that as a backdrop you might think that this would be a pretty effective thriller, but somehow it never quite manages to live up to its potential.

This movie provides proof of the old saying that in the movies, execution is everything. Having a great idea is one thing, but actually making it work on screen is quite another. It's never a good sign for a horror movie when the audience laughs during what should be scary moments. Feardotcom provokes plenty of unintended laughs, mostly as the result of the fact that is tends to telegraph what's going to happen next so obviously that there are never any real surprises - always the kiss of death for a thriller. Leading man Steven Dorff is one of the most intense and capable actors of his generation, and he's as impressive as usual here, but even he can't carry an entire movie. Director William Malone gets all the minor details right (the music is suitably atmospheric and the whole film has an appealingly grimy blue-tinged industrial look) but fails to tell an engaging or even coherent story, leaving viewers wondering what exactly he was trying to say. The result is a movie that's a mess of loose ends and tries to deal with so many ideas that none of them end up making any sense.

Another problem with Feardotcom is that it never achieves the suspension of disbelief necessary for a horror movie to be effective. Some of the ideas the audience is asked to swallow are simply ludicrous, and the S&M undertones start to get kind of creepy after a while. A great deal of screen time is devoted to shots of beautiful women being tied up and tortured, and the preponderance of scenes in which the camera pans lovingly over very beautiful but very dead female bodies (some of them complete with autopsy scars) is in dubious taste. While you can see the parallel being drawn between the voyeuristic thrill offered by Feardotcom's fictional website to its subscribers and that offered by the movie itself to its audience, the final effect is simply cheap and exploitative.

A more thoughtful exploration of humanity's twin obsessions with sex and death, and the role that the Internet plays in allowing people to explore those obsessions while distancing themselves from the real human cost of their own voyeurism, would make one hell of a movie. Unfortunately this is not that movie. As disappointing as that is, you have to at least give the filmmakers credit for trying to tackle some big ideas, even if they don't quite pull it off.


Rated R
1 hour 38 minutes

Stephen Dorff
Udo Kier
Natascha McElhone
Stephen Rea
Gesine Cukrowski