Sunday, December 11, 2016

Feardotcom (2002)

Still haunted by his inability to shave properly catch a serial killer named The Doctor (strangely enough not Colin Baker, but Stephen Rea doing a silly voice and a silly accent, probably because he wanted something to do), despite the guy streaming his murders live on the internet, police detective Mike (Stephen Dorff or the piece of wood they painted to look like him) stumbles upon a series of very curious deaths. The victims seem to die in accidents or by somewhat natural causes, but all of them see terrible things before their deaths and bleed from the eyes. The last bit puts health inspector – or something – Terry (Natascha McElhone or a different piece of painted wood) on the case too, and she won’t stop helping Mike even though it’s clear after five minutes of investigation that there’s no illness involved in these deaths. The script will also very randomly drop a romance between Mike and Terry on us, even though none of the scenes between them suggest any emotional connection at all, let’s not even speak of chemistry. In fact, it looks as if the actors were just as surprised by the development as the audience is.

Anyway, some disconnected dialogue scenes that stand in for an investigation later, our heroes learn that the victims are killed by a haunted website with the rather awkward URL of “”, an address that perfectly encapsulates the quality of the writing here. Apparently, the site is haunted (and designed?) by a ghost named Jeannine (sometimes Gesine Cukrowski in low level bondage gear, sometimes Jana Güttgemans, a little girl wearing a particularly obvious wig). Jeannine is a victim of the Doctor and uses her powers of net haunting to curse random people coming to her site. The curse will kill a victim after 48 hours of exposure via their greatest fear, unless, apparently, they catch the Doctor. Why Jeannine  thinks people like two German-speaking punks who have nothing whatsoever to do with law enforcement will be much help there, particularly since she doesn’t bother to actually tell her victims what she wants from them, is anybody’s guess. I’m not particularly hopeful the writers or director William Malone knew.

In fact, I have to hold myself back not to make a “you know nothing, Jon Snow” joke here, for the writing as a whole is so inconsistent, implausible and random in all the wrong ways, only utmost politeness can hold one back from heaping personal abuse on the people responsible. Consequently, the plot outline above is a best guess effort.

At the time it came out, Feardotcom was positioned as an attempt of getting at some of that sweet money reserved for bad US remakes of markedly superior Japanese horror films without actually having to buy any rights (or, one might add, perhaps with a degree of unkindness, without actually having a script). In practice, there certainly are some plot parallels to Nakata’s Ringu or Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo but there’s exactly zero of the complexity or aesthetic achievement of these films visible on screen. In fact, the film seems more in the spirit of Italian rip-off cinema of the 70s – with the little difference that where Italian rip-offs of successful movies were often highly entertaining, Feardotcom is mostly boring.

Much of that boredom is what happens when a cast of characters consisting of non-entities mostly lacking the single character trait even a slasher movie victim gets wander through thematically indifferent set-pieces which in turn meander between vapid and unexciting horror sequences shot in very dark rooms, third-rate would-be Seven-style serial killer non-thriller scenes shot in very dark rooms, and flash cuts too embarrassing even for a White Zombie or Marilyn Manson video clip.

I could probably live with the total lack of thematic coherence, the film’s disinterest in its own narrative, and the non-characters if the visual aspects of the film suggested anything beyond Malone having seen some music videos, and a David Fincher film and probably once having heard of Japan and Italy and now crapping it all back on screen without rhyme, reason, a concept, or even an idea of mood. The courageous handful of defenders of Feardotcom (and all power to defenders of hopeless causes like this) tend to argue the film is actually a rather stylish affair but to my eyes and ears, there’s no coherence to its style, and therefore no style at all.

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