Case Number 02491


Warner Bros. // 2002 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // January 1st, 2003

The Charge

Want to see a really killer website?

Opening Statement

There are certain film genres that make me wince with a dread of boredom. One such category is that of "cyber/Internet" movies. You know what I'm talking about -- films like Johnny Mnemonic, Virtuosity, The Lawnmower Man, and Strangeland are all based around the idea of the Internet or electronic hokum. And none of them ended up being very good. Maybe it's because the Internet just doesn't make for a very interesting character. In any case, here comes the techno horror thriller FearDotCom starring Stephen Dorff (Blade), Natascha McElhone (Ronin), and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game), now on DVD care of Warner Home Entertainment.

Facts of the Case

The Internet is used for multiple purposes. You can find out new info on your favorite sports team. Or download the newest chicken casserole recipe. Or find yourself bleeding from your eyes right before keeling over dead!

On the website folks are able to watch a crazy genius (Rea) torture and slaughter innocent victims. Those sick souls who tune into this site are treated to a grizzly death themselves exactly 48 hours later. An investigating detective (Dorff) and a health inspector (McElhone) are the only ones who know what dangers lie in the demented site and its "influence" on the visitors. Can they solve the mystery before everyone succumbs to a horrible, ill fated demise more painful than seeing Bill Gates naked?

The Evidence

I felt kinda stupid while watching FearDotCom. The plot, what there is of it, had me baffled beyond all recognition. Things didn't make sense. Elements never gelled. To make sure that my IQ wasn't dropping rapidly with each passing day (which often happens when I travel through parts of Indiana), I read over Roger Ebert's review and was relieved to see that I wasn't the only one who didn't understand the film's narrative (though he enjoyed the visuals far more than I did).

The movie is a hodgepodge of various horror elements spliced together with scenes that seem directly lifted directly from a David Fincher film. The story takes place in a city that is always dark and dreary with rain splattering every paved street. No wonder there's an insane doctor running around cutting people up on the 'net -- I might be tempted to go a little wacky too, had I been forced to live in a city such as FearDotCom's. This is one of those movies where the only prevalent colors are blue, black, and white -- everything is under a perpetual cloud of darkness.

And how apt that the mood is under a dismal cloud, since the storyline is under an even thicker one. The main problem with FearDotCom is that it makes no sense. While I might be able to buy that a website can kill people, I don't buy how it kills people in this film. It apparently makes their darkest fear come to life, though it's never very clear how this all works. Is it magic? Electronic wizardry? From a supernatural powwow? Right before their death, the folks always see a little girl in white playing with a rubber ball. This is meant to symbolize...ah, but I don't want to be the one who spoils FearDotCom's secrets (even if they are fairly lame). Let's just say that once the explanation crops up, most of you will be scratching your heads in complete annoyance. And don't even get me started on the ending!

The actors here are all far above this material. I don't know how the filmmakers were able to wrangle Stephen Rea into playing the demented website host. Talking in a creepy, nerdy vocal tone and dressed like my dentist, Rea does a fine job making his character genuinely weird. Unfortunately, there's not much to him -- aside of spouting out complicated lines about the perversion of watching Internet porn, the character is generally kept in the dark. Stephen Dorff and Natascha MeElhone work fine as the respective leads, though their characters are thinly written by screenwriter Josephine Coyle. How many variations on the grizzled detective can we see before the whole thing spirals into self parody? At least character actor Jeffery Combs (Re-Animator, The Frighteners) pops up to inject some much needed levity into all this gloomy seriousness.

For your horror fans (and let's face it -- if you've read this far, that's you), the gore and violence is there if you want it, though it's nothing particularly exciting. A few dead bodies, some severed limbs, a little bit of blood -- it makes one long for the days of the mindless slasher genre. I can appreciate and respect what the filmmakers were attempting to achieve here -- the film is slickly made and at least attempts to be different. Unfortunately, FearDotCom's come up long on ideas and short on scares.

FearDotCom is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Once again, Warner's video work here is excellent -- this transfer features bright colors and sharp black levels. The detail in the image is sharp without any major flaws or imperfections marring the image. While I wasn't crazy about the movie, there is no denying that this is a great and solid effort by the folks over at Warner.

The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. The sound mix on this disc is almost as good as the transfer -- bombastic and very exciting. There are a multitude of sound effects creeping out of both the front and rear speakers, making this a very enjoyable surround sound mix. All aspects of the mix are free and clear of any excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English, French and Spanish subtitles.

For a film that didn't perform very well in theaters, Warner has doled out a fair amount of extra features on this DVD edition of the film. Here's a rundown of what's on this disc:

Commentary Track by Director William Malone and Director of Photography Christian Sebaldt: I listened to about half of this track and found it to be quite informative. It's obvious that both men worked hard on the film, and while their efforts aren't all that successful it's nice to know that they gave it a good shot. Lots of production information is included in this track, plus a rather funny anecdote about character actor Udo Kier.

FearDotCom: Visions of Fear: This is a brief behind-the-scenes short that includes interviews with actors Jeffrey Combs, Natascha McElhone, and Stephen Dorff, and director William Malone (Malone also helmed the terrible remake House on Haunted Hill0. A few tidbits of info are included here, though the bulk of this featurette is just talking random heads and clips from the film.

"The Mushroom Factory" Deleted Scene: This rough looking non-anamorphic scene features a man getting killed in -- imagine this -- a mushroom factory. Nothing particularly exciting. An introduction by the director is also included.

Finally there are a few cast and crew highlights, a short photo gallery (including drawings and storyboards), and a widescreen theatrical trailer for the film.

Closing Statement

A noble effort, but a failed on nonetheless. I can really only recommend FearDotCom to hardcore horror fans only. Warner has done better than average work on this disc considering the movie wasn't very well received.

The Verdict

FearDotCom is sentenced to eight years hard labor and forced to shower with I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Soul Survivors. Watch the soap!

Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 97
Extras: 84
Acting: 80
Story: 58
Judgment: 66

Perp Profile
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)

* English
* French
* Spanish

Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary Track by Director William Malone and Director of Photography Christian Sebaldt
* "FearDotCom: Visions of Fear" Featurette
* Theatrical Trailer
* Cast and Crew Info
* Photo Gallery

* IMDb

* Official Site