The Dread (2007)

NOVEMBER 4, 2011


After about a half hour or so of The Dread had passed, I paused the film to go check and make sure that director/co-writer Michael Spence was not a student making an ambitious feature film, as just about every single element of the production reminded me of the "movies" I would shoot with friends when I was that age, and thus I could cut him some slack for making such a (sigh) dreadfully wooden movie. Sadly this was not the case; not only was this his third feature film, but he's been part of the business for well over 20 years - he even shot 2nd unit and edited Silent Night, Deadly Night!

So what the hell is the excuse for this movie being so damn amateurish and inert? I'm sure he will blame the budget, but it doesn't cost money to move the camera every now and then. And given the fact that it appears to have been shot on ugly consumer-grade video, I have to assume it would have been cheap enough to get a second take after telling the "actors" to actually react to things like corpses or the appearance of a ghost-like slasher monster. Instead, they usually just stand there and go barely above a monotone to say things like "Son of a bitch", as if they just dropped a slice of toast butter side down.

Plus the story itself just limps along without any urgency. For a movie that is ostensibly about a girl who visits the mental institute that houses the brother she never knew existed, it takes an awful long time for her to get there, leaving us with a first half primarily filled with scenes of her looking at her computer while her boyfriend urges her to look into it. Since we know she DOES (otherwise there's no movie), all of this just wastes our time. And it's intercut with mostly useless scenes at the institute, including a hilariously stupid bit where an orderly and his girlfriend sneak in to have sex, because she "always wanted to do it in a nut house". Who has these sort of ambitions? I get people that want to do it outside or in a car, but why would anyone have a longstanding desire to fuck around in a regular room (in this case, a basement) of a particular building? Had she not died, what other buildings would she seek to engage in carnal activity? Hardware stores?

And when the story DOES move, it barely makes any sense. For a while they make it look like the Michael Myers ripoff brother (the reason I was drawn to the movie in the first place - it sounded like a version of Halloween where Laurie finds out who Michael is and goes to see HIM) is just a red herring, since folks are being offed by this demonic thing while he's still in his cell, and at the end of act 2 he even dies at the hands of the monster. But then it turns out he IS the killer, as he has these ill-defined, not particularly coherent "powers" that allow him to morph, I guess. Nothing is ever explained about this; the closest I can figure to an explanation is that his obsession with some Super Mario type game starring a wizard has given him the same powers as the game character?

Speaking of the game, it's almost cute how pathetic it is. We see an old-school Xbox being used, but the game itself has graphics that would barely be acceptable on a Sega Genesis. I never got why people make up games for movies - there are plenty of 3rd party game developers who would probably let you use their game for free (especially on an outdated system). Instead people are always faking them, and they just suck you right out of any reality the movie might have mustered up until that point (in this case, that wasn't much to begin with). And it's not like the game was particularly complicated or even original - it's just some guy that looks like Pierce Hawthorne in his Cookie Crisp outfit jumping around a Mario/Donkey Kong Country type platform level.

Oh, while I'm referencing Community - a girl actually walks out of the movie because she has Coldplay tickets, the same excuse Josh Holloway's "Black Rider" character gave for his premature exit in the first part of Season 2's paintball finale. But whereas his exit was funny (he's a badass, but he likes the blandest band in the world), here it's just yet another example of this movie's rampant halfassery - she literally just leaves; it's not an excuse for her to go off by herself and die. On the other hand, I'll give it props for one thing - the African American orderly character survives far longer than I'd expect, even outlasting the heroine's boyfriend. Usually this sort of character would die early, as he'd be the one they send to check on the patient and he'd die in the process, so I like that they turned him into a hero of sorts.

But no, the boring girl is the hero, of course, and even gets to engage in the most ridiculous part of the movie (yes, consider the above, and THEN realize it gets stupider. And I had to WATCH this thing). When she becomes the only one left, she has the usual "Now it's time to FIGHT!" moment, and tapes a metal "sword" to her arm. They make a big deal out of it, but then when she actually goes to fight the thing, she just swings at it a few times as she would if the sword was in her hand normally - he never even does anything that would have caused her to drop it if it wasn't taped up. As with the 90 minutes before it (yes, this thing is over 90 minutes long, including super-fast credits), Spence shows that he has no understanding of how to stage or shoot action; a good director would have figured out a way to tie this element into the action (perhaps having the taped up sword actually cause her problems - getting stuck or something), or simply realized that the whole thing was pointless and skipped it.

Back to what I was saying about the possibility that Spence was a film student or something, the film features the lovely Ellen Sandweiss, prominently billed for an extended cameo as the head of the institute. 30 years ago, she played a similarly brief role in a movie by an ambitious young filmmaker (one that certainly yielded better results), so I was thinking it would make sense and even be sort of charming that she would do so again. But since Mr. Spence is NOT a young kid starting out (if he edited SNDN he'd have to be at least in his late 40s), it just makes her (and, to a lesser extent, Tom Sullivan's) appearance all the more pointless - why would you go out of your way to remind your audience of Evil Dead - one of the most frenetic and creative independent horror films of all time - in a movie this clunky and dull?

Luckily, it seems the film barely exists; I can't find any information about a DVD release, and the only video on Youtube related to the film is a promotional piece about its production (no trailer or full clips). And there are only two reviews on the IMDb and one of them is a 404 dead link. The message board is also a ghost town, most of the posts are people asking when it was coming out (probably intrigued by Sandweiss' appearance, as she didn't act in films for over 20 years after Evil Dead), as it sat on the shelf for a while in between filming and its "release". Gee, can't imagine why.

What say you?


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