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I wish I could tell you with some measure of certainty about the events that take place in “Fear Dot Com”, but unfortunately I can’t. The reason is simple: the movie is so dark, so swamped in shadows and night, that it’s next to impossible to make out anything. We aren’t talking about the “so dark it’s cool” of “Seven”, or the “so dark it’s gothic” of “Dark City”. We’re just talking about the type of “so dark” that makes one think, “Good God, why didn’t they invest in lights for this bloody movie?”
Stephen Dorff (“Blade”) turns in one of his few leading man role as Riley, a Detective in some unnamed city eternally bathed in night and a rainstorm that has no end. (And apparently in this no-name city, electricity is so scarce no one bothers to turn it on, not even in a police station!) Riley is investigating a series of deaths where the victims bleed from the eyes; Riley’s investigation leads him to a website called fear.com, where all the victims had logged into exactly 48 hours before their death. Helping Riley out on the case is Terry (Natascha McElhone), a Department of Health official who was called in when Riley though the victims were dying of some virus. Somehow, some way, the deaths are linked to a serial killer called the Doctor, who Riley has been hunting for a while now…
Let’s get this out of the way: “Fear Dot Com” is part “Ring” (i.e. a device, when viewed, is guaranteed to kill its victims within a certain amount of time) and part “Kairo” (i.e. ghosts use the computer to channel their energy). Beyond those similarities, “Fear Dot Com” is in a class all its own. An unfathomably dark class where bad choices (like the choice not to use any lights at all) are commonplace, and coherent narrative takes a backseat to, well, it just takes a backseat.
The man responsible for giving us a 90 minute movie where we can’t see anything for 80 minutes of it, is director William Malone (the “House on Haunted Hill” remake). The decision to cover the film in darkness is obviously an aesthetic choice, with the reason being that since the movie is so silly to begin with, if you hide nearly everything in pitch-black darkness the audience won’t notice! (That last part is my attempt at sarcasm, of course. Or is it?) Malone shows the same flair for shock visuals here that he did in “House on Haunted Hill” (when the movie is visible, that is). The film has a number of interesting scenes sliced apart by quick cuts; they will remind most people of Goth rocker Marilyn Manson’s rock videos — only less coherent.
The screenplay for “Fear Dot Com” is so weak that it’s not worth ripping apart. There are plot holes galore, and so many questions involving the evil spirit and the website, but because going into the details would reveal a large part of the movie’s “plot”, I wouldn’t dream of ruining your chance to personally scoff at this movie. Suffice it to say, the whole idea of an evil spirit using some kind of psychic power to kill its victims is almost as silly as a ghost using psychic powers to kill people via videotape. (Yes, “Ring”, I am talking about you.)
I wish I could tell you if lead Stephen Dorff is having a good time, but he is so permanently stuck in the shadows that I can’t read his face. I couldn’t even tell you if the guy had facial hair or not. Irish lass Natascha McElhone (“Ronin”) is slumming here, and why not? They probably paid her a lot of money to get rid of her accent. Although I’m still unsure about this little tidbit: even after it’s concluded very early on in the film that the victims weren’t dying of a virus, why is McElhone’s character still going around investigating murders with Dorff’s cop?
Stephen Rea plays Alistair, who is also the serial killer known as the Doctor. Rea spends the bulk of the movie in one location torturing his latest victim. Besides that, he blabs on and on and on about life and death and the Internet. Or some such nonsense. Needless to say, the guy makes Al Gore look like a partying machine. Like McElhone, Rea is slumming here, and I hope he bought something nice with that paycheck of his.
“Fear Dot Com” is notable for two things: convincing me that director Malone has as much sense when it comes to picking good scripts as does about how to shoot a film; and two, after 90 minutes of sitting through “Fear Dot Com”, I still couldn’t tell you what Dorff’s character wore in the movie, what he looked like, or even if the filmmakers were shooting the whole thing in one building, or if there were actually more than one.
William Malone (director) / Moshe Diamant (story), Josephine Coyle (written by)
CAST: Stephen Dorff …. Mike
Natascha McElhone …. Terry
Stephen Rea …. Alistair
Udo Kier …. Polidori
Amelia Curtis …. Denise Stone
Jeffrey Combs …. Styles