Directed by William Malone
Starring Stephen Dorff, Natascha McElhone, Stephen Rea
Released on August 30, 2002
Running time 1h 21m
Rated R (originally NC-17)
What a mess.
What a terrible title as well. “Feardotcom”? What…what can I even say to it?
Even reading the description on the back of the DVD box was a very strange experience.
“Four bodies are found in New York City. Why, why, why? The coincidence? They all died 48 hours after logging on to a site named feardotcom.com. Tough detective Mike Reilly collaborates with Department of Health associate Terry Huston to research these mysterious deaths. The only way to find out though what really happened is to enter the site itself…”
I’m sorry, but what the hell did I just read? I haven’t had to complain about the DVD cover synopsis since The Messengers.
Let’s go through it sentence by sentence.
“Four bodies are found in New York City.” Why not “dead bodies” or “corpses”?
“Why, why, why?” Jeez. It sounds like these deaths are all minor annoyances rather than terrible tragedies.
“The coincidence?” Huh?
“They all died 48 hours after logging on to a site named feardotcom.com.” Brought to you by the Department of Redundancy Department ™. Who came up with that brilliant idea? Also, why didn’t they just combine this sentence and the preceding one?
“Tough detective Mike Reilly collaborates with Department of Health associate Terry Huston to research these mysterious deaths.” Adjective for the guy, but not for the chick? I smell possible sexism.
“The only way to find out though what really happened is to enter the site itself…” Just remove “though” and you have a coherent sentence.
Why in heaven’s name did the synopsis reveal so much of the plot?
But enough nitpicking the DVD cover synopsis. Let’s get into the actual story, or should I say, “story”.
We open with a man played by Udo Kier (Hai. How’d they get you into this?) walking into an empty subway station. Do they have a Subway restaurant down there? Get it? Waka waka – oh, forget it. Kier sees a little girl playing with an inflatable rubber ball on the live subway tracks. Oh, come on – haven’t the little girl’s parents taught her to NEVER go on the subway tracks under any circumstances? I know that the little girl is just a supernatural apparition, but still. Oh, and is it just me, or does the little girl look suspiciously like Carol Anne Freeling from Poltergeist? Stay away from the light, Carol Anne! Anyway, Kier jumps down onto the tracks to fetch the girl, but GASP! She disappears just in time for the train to start coming! And like a moron, Kier presses himself against the wall where he has room to dodge the train, but quite literally at the last second, he lunges for the platform. And of course the train hits him.
Detective Mike Reilly (Dorff, another actor who consistently almost has a career, his only notable film being Blade) is introduced an unspecified amount of time later at the scene of Kier’s death. Kier is found with a clearly digitally enhanced expression of pure fear on his face. Kier is also revealed to be named Pollidori, a guy who has written a (from the looks of it) 400 page book criticizing the existence of the Internet. Well, Feardotcom was set in 2002, so the Internet was only just beginning to become popular.
One thing you will quickly notice, Feardotcom fails to answer the question, “Where exactly is this taking place?” I know that it takes place in some city, but we don’t know where. Hell, we don’t even know the size of the city. I can’t even make a guesstimate about where we are. Chicago? New York City? Los Angeles? Detroit? Vancouver? We could be in Atlantis for all I know. I know that the overall location is a small flaw when compared to the entirety of the movie, but it’s a question I found myself asking.
Reilly then is seen in his office at a police station, where he muses over the letters sent to him by a notorious, elusive serial killer known as The Doctor. He muses over them so intensely because he’s DAAAAARK and BROOOOODING. And then some (German? French? Belgian? Welsh? Slavic? Russian? Italian?) guy is brought into the station, ranting and raving about…something. It’s unintelligible, as it’s in the…uh…European guy’s native language. The police get his wallet off of him, and figure out his name and where he lives. Reilly goes to the guy’s house.
We are then introduced to Terry Huston (McElhone), who receives a call telling her to go to the European guy’s house. She meets up with Reilly there, and they discover another corpse; a naked woman, waterlogged, in the bathtub, with the same expression that Pollidori had when he died. Huston and Reilly regard the corpse with bored, unfeeling faces and lines as they take in a camcorder as evidence.
After a sequence in which the European guy is now dead, Huston and Reilly go back to the station and watch the camcorder footage. It turns out the European guy and now-dead chick were a couple, and were goths, I think. The footage shows them logging onto a website and being visibly disturbed by what they see.
We see a scene in which Huston’s boss gets into his car and sees the little girl. His car starts up and starts driving on its own, and it crashes, throwing Huston’s boss through the windshield.
Huston then discovers that Pollidori, the European couple, and Huston’s boss all have one tiny little thing in common: they all died exactly forty-eight hours after visiting the website. That sounds strikingly similar to The Ring, where, after viewing a cursed videotape, the viewer will die in seven days.
HUSTON: Forty-eight hours. Forty-eight.
What was with the repeating of “forty-eight”?
We are then introduced to the villain of the movie, Alistair “The Doctor” Pratt (Rea)(What was he thinking?) as he stalks a Sarah Michelle Gellar wannabe, lures her into an abandoned building, and kidnaps her. She wakes up in a dark but somehow brightly lit room, where, in front of plenty of cameras, Pratt begins to torture her.
And then we are introduced to a new character, an analyst and coworker of Huston’s named Denise. She figures out that the one website that all four victims have in common is a site known as “feardotcom.com”. Again, why the redundancy? How bad could “fear.com” have been? And then we get our first look at the website when Denise visits it. A black blot starts at the hotbox and spreads, blanketing the screen. After a few seconds of torture sessions edited into each other, a blonde Eastern European woman (I can tell by the accent) shows up. And though we can understand what she’s saying, she is still subtitled in a tacky font.
FEAR SITE CHICK: Do you like to watch?
Denise is disturbed and gets up from her chair.
F.S.C.: I’m waiting for you, Denise.
Disturbed, Denise types into the hotbox: How do you know my name?
F.S.C.: Come and find out. Don’t you want to play with me?
A dialog box shows up with two buttons labeled YES and NO. Like a moron, Denise clicks YES.
F.S.C.: Do you want to hurt me?
The same dialog box shows up. Denise clicks NO.
F.S.C.: You’re lying.
And then we see some visual effects fly by Denise as the curse infects her.
Over the next two days, shown over the course of about fifteen minutes, Denise essentially breaks down. The night of the second day, she is in her apartment dealing with her worst fear: COCKROACHES. Okay. Reilly and Huston show up just in time to see her throw herself out of her somethingth-story window. Reilly goes up to her apartment to see it in shambles. He goes up to her computer and, for some reason, like a moron, visits the site.
F.S.C.: Do you like to watch? Do you want to see more?
After recognizing the F.S.C. as a chick named Jeanine who was a victim of Pratt (how convenient) Reilly clicks YES.
JEANINE: Do you want to hurt me, Mike? I know who you are, and I know what you really want.
Mike types into the hotbox: Did you kill Denise?
As if Jeanine outright ignored Reilly, she says
JEANINE: Time to play. Time for us to become one.
As if forgetting that Jeanine didn’t even answer his previous question, Reilly types: How do I play?
JEANINE: Find me. You have forty-eight hours.
Reilly types: What do I get if I win?
Reilly types: What happens if I lose?
JEANINE: You die. Do you want to play? What are you afraid of?
Reilly, like a moron, clicks YES.
And then we get another barrage of amateur perspective-altering camera effects.
We then see Reilly on a stretcher being wheeled into an ambulance. Huston runs up to his side, where he yells at her, telling her that the F.S.C. was Jeanine, and begging her not to visit the site. Of course, like a moron, when Huston gets home, the very first thing she does is visit the site. Jeanine dispenses with her usual opening, instead saying
JEANINE: Hello, Terry. Are you ready to play?
Huston types into the hotbox: Why are you killing Mike?
Huston types: Guilty of what?
JEANINE: Watching. Are you ready to play?
And, of course, like a moron, Huston clicks YES, and is assaulted by poorly rendered effects.
So yes, despite Huston and Reilly promising each other not to visit feardotcom.com, they still both visited it. Wow.
Huston, knowing that she only has a limited time before she dies, decides to visit Jeanine’s mother. The mother tells Huston that Jeanine suffered from hemophilia, which, for those who don’t know, is a blood disease that causes an inability for blood to clot. For example, a single cut could result in bleeding to death unless some sort of strong styptic were applied. It turns out that the little girl that has always been present just before death by website is just a younger version of Jeanine, and that Jeanine rarely went anywhere without her ball. That is, until she discovered boys, of course.
Huston inexplicably shows up in some strange derelict building, searching for the body of Jeanine, surrounded by apparitions of Jeanine. Huston asks the Jeanine Apparition a series of questions as she searches, but Jeanine only replies with quips from her website dialogue, often creating a series of non sequiturs. Sigh. Huston finds the body as we see Reilly check himself out of the hospital. The two meet at the city morgue. They somehow find a rolled up business card with an address on it in Jeanine’s throat, and realize that the address leads to Pratt’s hideout. They drive there. En route, they talk, and come to a conclusion that when Jeanine was tortured, she created the website with her mind, and ultimately died after forty-eight hours, hence the time of death of all website visitors. They arrive at the address, but cannot find Pratt. Then Huston finds a magazine with a picture of the abandoned steel mill on the edge of town, and somehow realizes that that is Pratt’s torture chamber. Huston and Reilly drive there.
They find Pratt torturing the Sarah Michelle Gellar wannabe and get him away from her at gunpoint. Pratt then pulls a gun out of his ass (not really, but out of somewhere) and shoots Reilly in the chest. Pratt then subdues Huston and straps her to the torture rack. Reilly somehow fell next to a keyboard, so he, thinking quickly, types feardotcom.com into the hotbox. Jeanine, seeing her killer, pulls his soul into some surreal bastardization of the torture room. She, over the course of roughly a minute, mentally tortures Pratt, and then destroys his soul. And, to be honest, the torture and death sequence of Pratt could have looked pretty damn cool, if only it wasn’t so poorly rendered. Also, I wish we actually knew Pratt as a character. His death could have been so much more satisfying. Anyway, in the real world, Pratt dies, and Reilly dies from the gunshot wound, having finally closed the case.
Feardotcom ends as Huston is seen in her apartment with her cat, lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling.
Though competently shot and undoubtedly somewhat atmospheric, Feardotcom cannot overcome its predictable and ripoff story, gaping plotholes, one-dimensional characters, shoddy CGI, conveniently placed Deus ex Machinas for the sake of plot convenience, and piss-poor writing that seriously required proofreading.
The overall film lacked the driving force behind its plot. I just didn’t have that feeling that something was happening. And many times, I had to ask myself what exactly was going on. In fact, while watching this movie, I pulled out my phone and checked Facebook several times. Yes. The film as a whole was quite boring. I know that that’s a very juvenile comment to make, that a film is boring, but sometimes, the film is just so uninteresting that it needs to be acknowledged.
Apparently, the film was just well-known enough to warrant it a second-long cameo in The Hills Run Red.
Overall, Feardotcom is a desperate Ring wannabe. You can find the entirety of the Japanese film Ringu on YouTube if you wish to watch it. You can even find the entirety of The Ring there as well (update: not anymore)
Well…do you like to watch?
Final verdict: 1 out of 5 stars.