Reviewed by Paul McCannibal
Starring Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Evans, Hanne Steen, Laura Donnelly, Jonathan Readwin
Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
A case study in fear could be used in a positive way. You could set up a camera and get a bunch of people to tell you what it is that really fills them with dread, that one thing that happened in their lives that gave them so much trauma that it hangs around their neck like an albatross.
Armed with such intimate glimpses into personal terrors, you might be able find a way to help people overcome such fears, or at the very least share the knowledge gained with others who have comparable phobias, maybe let a shrink offer a professional opinion, get some therapeutic value out of it ...
But then, you could always take that information and use it to fuck with people in extremely unpleasant ways ...
And that’s Dread in a nutshell. The story is about a superficially charming but deeply unpleasant fellow named Quaid, an artist who seems tormented by some kind of nightmarish childhood trauma. He’s a tortured soul who obsesses about finding his way into the heads of other people, finding out what their phobia is, and gleefully playing on it to distract himself from his otherwise omnipresent personal demons.
The initial setting is a university film class, an environment where an opportunist with a deranged master-plan like Quaid can smooth talk his way into getting collaborators, video equipment, and most importantly, victims. Like a lot of really scary people in the big bad world out there, Quaid is disarming at first and doesn’t seem like that bad of a guy. He’s a little over the top and way too intense sometimes, but he’s also very insightful when it comes to manipulating people through well-timed apologies and pandering, sincerely phrased compliments.
Quaid hooks up with a couple of students and devises the “show us your deepest fear” video project master plan with them, using other people in the university as the test subjects. Things start off promisingly enough, a good grade is earned, and everything seems to be hunky-dory. The only problem is that Quaid is getting a little weird and erratic and showing an increasingly violent and threatening side. Taped confessions don’t seem to be near enough for Quaid – he wants a lot more and is hell-bent on taking the project to the next level.
The tension builds as Quaid’s accomplices start to shy away and from there it all builds up to a messy, ugly climax. The last 3rd of this movie is pretty nasty and ruthless. It’s creatively executed mayhem though – aside from a nightmarish bloke wielding a big axe, this isn’t a stalk/slash horror film at all. We’re dealing with a very creative central psychopath and some horrific and emotionally disturbing methods of torment here.
This is a well made adaptation of the short story from Clive Barker's Books of Blood, which I haven’t read in around 20 years and can’t remember anymore. Apparently this movie builds on what was initially a very myopic narrative (and, notably, the only story in the Books of Blood that didn’t veer off into realms of monsters and the supernatural). There’s a whole new story and set of characters created around the original premise, and without referencing the original story beyond having a friend summarize it for me, I’d say Anthony DiBlasi’s screenplay did great job of coming up with a plot to build towards what the short story was about.
The ensemble cast did a very good job as a whole, but the standouts are definitely Shaun Evans as Quaid and Hanne Steen as Cheryl, a girl who falls victim to Quaid’s allure to devastating results. It really helps when you feel genuinely sorry for the victims in a horror film, but when you have an anti-hero like Quaid whose sadistic actions are creative enough that you look forward to what he’ll do next, you are kind of forced to be a hypocrite as a viewer. I’m sure DiBlasi was well aware of this when writing the screenplay. The result is a conflicting moral dynamic that works extremely well as an ongoing narrative hook.
Dread is a solid genre effort with great production values. It’s got a definite mean streak and it’s not the kind of film that lets the viewer off easy at the end, but it’s balanced out with characters who you get to know and actually give a shit about, so the toll of the experience is rewarding even if it’s shocking, upsetting, and not exactly what I’d class as cathartic. And who cares anyway – aren’t there enough “feel good” stories out there already?
Dread is well worth your time.
4 out of 5
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