Judge Brett Cullum likes the same old traps when there's something new about them.
Your Time Will Come.
Stephen (Jackson Rathbone, Twilight) and Cheryl (Hanne Steen, The Monument) are doing a college film project about the psychology of fear and how it affects people as they navigate a life ruled by it. They want to gently interview subjects on camera about phobias, but the student who came up with the frightful idea plans to ratchet things up a notch. What they don't know is their academic partner Quaid (Shaun Evans, Being Julia) watched his parents get brutally killed by an ax murderer, and he's determined to make everyone else live in as much terror as he does. The psychotic student has some ideas about how to bring everybody's greatest fear to life one by one, and it's not going to be pretty.
Dread is based on a short story from Clive Barker written back in 1984 and included in the second volume of the Books of Blood collection. It is a unique story from Barker in that it contains no supernatural elements, and predated the "torture porn" craze for having characters stuck in crazy elaborate trap-like situations. The problem with adapting the film now is that back then it would have been revolutionary, but with franchises like Hostel and Saw out there it seems just part of the landscape. This particular telling of the tale is adapted by director Anthony DiBlasi (executive producer of The Midnight Meat Train). He is a huge Clive Barker fan, and the author himself helped to produce this feature. DiBlasi and Barker have crafted a film that works on many levels, but it may be too small scale and subtle to catch much attention.
Dread became part of the After Dark Horrorfest 4 of 2009 which means it is getting its release from Lionsgate as part of the "8 Films to Die For" series of 2010. It's a strong entry for the set of films, and the feature works well because it allows for something few fright fests bother to do: Dread has character development. We get to know the killer, the victims, and what makes them all tick before things go horribly wrong in epic ways. Like most Clive Barker stories the premise is intelligent, the sex is graphic, and the gore is stomach churning. The one thing about the film that's off is that the plot feels stretched out, as if the source story was too short and thin.
The acting is all topnotch, and hopefully Jackson Rathbone's presence won't mean twelve year old girls end up trying to watch this because of the Twilight connection. A lot of parents would have cause for concern if that comes to pass. Shaun Evans realistically channels the serial killer mentality that makes Dexter's title character so normal looking yet lethal. Hanne Steen as the film editor who doesn't eat meat is also quite convincing, especially when she ends up confronting her worst nightmare. Laura Donnelly (Hex) does a great job with one of the most challenging roles as a girl who has an inky birthmark that covers half her body.
On DVD we see a good transfer that tends to look dark, but then this is an independent horror film and that's par for the course. There is definitely grain, and the colors are purposefully washed out at times. It looks decidedly '90s, and even has an alternative rock soundtrack to fulfill that feeling. Dread has a gritty low-budget style, and the disc delivers the right technical treatment. Extras are amazingly well produced including several nice features. First up is a "behind the scenes" featurette which includes interviews with all the major players as well as footage of filming key sequences. The real prize though is a sit down discussion of the movie with Clive Barker and director Anthony DiBlasi who reveal their intentions and feelings. They freely admit this is their version of a "torture porn" flick, and it sparks an interesting dialogue on the state of horror today.
Hopefully gore hounds that dig Clive Barker will end up with this DVD, because it is certainly worth checking out. It's a small independent film that captures the essence of what Barker is all about, and that means it's smarter than your average Saw sequel. It might be considered too plodding or cerebral for some audiences, and it does seem to drag a little in the middle act. But on the whole, Dread is a unique entry in the elaborate torture genre. Sure it plays out the same traps we've seen countless times, but it let's us get to know the victims just a bit more. In the end you'll squirm harder knowing what's happening in somebody's head.
Guilty of doing justice to Clive Barker's vision of a tired genre.
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