MAY 5, 2009
In a way, the genre tagging that I do is a bit of a disservice to some films. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with saying Halloween is a slasher or Cloverfield is a monster movie, but there are some films that don’t easily fit into such categories. Maybe I should invent a new tag simply called “TRUE HORROR”. If so, Anthony DiBlasi’s adaptation of Clive Barker’s Dread would certainly qualify.
The psychological aspects are not unfounded though. One of the main characters constantly sees visions of the man who murdered his parents, despite the fact that the guy isn’t there (one of the movie’s greatest strengths is that it doesn’t needlessly try to shoehorn the real murderer into the movie - it’s not what it’s about). And the film as a whole plays on the concept of people’s unique fears - surely a concept based in psychology. I just want to make sure folks know that it's its own beast, and nothing like the other films you'd find in the Psychological section of HMAD (most of which involve people purposely being driven mad so they can be scammed out of their inheritance).
I have not yet read the short story by Barker, so I cannot speak to the faithfulness of the adaptation. The film version essentially has two lead characters, Stephen Grace (played by Jackson Rathbone, far more effective and interesting here than he was allowed to be in Twilight) and Quaid (the Paul Bettany-esque Shaun Evans). Grace is a film student, and Quaid recruits him to make a documentary about people’s fears; what causes them dread. After getting fed up with people coming in with generic fears (clowns, the dark, etc), their film’s editor (Hanne Steen) offers up her own unique fear - meat. Her dad used to abuse her after coming home from the meat packing plant where he worked, and now the smell or sight of meat brings those memories back. From then on, the film follows Quaid’s increasing obsession with getting people to offer equally disturbing examples, with, of course, horrifying results.
Since the movie is not due for release any time soon, I don’t want to spoil anything (I actually feel I’ve given away too much, but I want folks to know that this is not a remake of the 1996 DTV movie The Fear), but let’s just say that if there was ever a film that could make someone turn into a vegetarian, it’s this one. The meat fear plays a part in the film’s incredibly gut-wrenching and horrifying finale, building toward a downer ending that redefines “downer endings”.
But what really grabbed me is how the film accurately depicts its own title. It’s not a big spectacle film with “set pieces” or anything like that - it deliberately builds at a sure and steady pace, developing the characters along with the plot as they make their way toward the horrific ending. Some may see this as “slow”, but I found it refreshing. It’s rare to see a horror film - especially one from a first time director, based on a work by one of the foremost names in horror - take time to really make you identify with not one but FOUR characters, to the extent that even the film’s “villain” is sympathetic.
The sound design and score also gets this point across. Theo Green’s score is incredible, and the occasional licensed songs fit well (no Fall Out Boy here). Again, it’s not a film with lots of typical horror scenes, but the score never lets you feel anything but uneasy about what is to come.
My only minor issue was the first 10 minutes or so. The friendship between Quaid and Grace is crucial to the film, and it seems like they meet, talk, and begin working together within minutes. I can see why they’d want to get to the documentary as soon as they could, but I still wouldn’t have minded maybe 4-5 minutes’ worth of the two of them bonding prior to embarking on their “project”.
I’ve heard from a lot of people that “Dread” is their favorite Barker story, so I hope that this film lives up to the expectations of those fans. For a non-reader like me (something I will remedy soon, as I just finally finished Barker’s beast known as "Coldheart Canyon"), I can only say that the film not only extends Barker’s hit streak (not counting Candyman/Hellraiser sequels that he had no involvement with, I have yet to dislike a Barker related film, rare as they are), but also raises the bar for one. After what has to be a thousand movies in a row, I admit to getting a bit blasé at times, which makes Dread’s effectiveness all the more notable. If this movie doesn't end up in my top 5 for the year, then by default 2009 would have to be the best year for horror movies ever.
What say you?
(NOTE - Not a trailer, more of a promotional video for distributing purposes.)