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John’s Horror Corner: Dread (2009), beautifully made yet difficult to watch

December 14, 2013

MY CALL:  The After Dark Horrorfest breathes cinematic life into a 30 year old Clive Barker story in this difficult-to-watch film about obsession, fear and psychological torture.  MORE MOVIES LIKE Dread:  Hmmmm…tough to say.  I’d lean toward Deadgirl (2008) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978, 2010)–which both deal in rape and revenge whereas Dread does not touch the rape issue.  Much more intense and fear/torture-based is Martyrs (2008).

Written and directed by (at the time) fledgling director Anthony DiBlasi (The Profane Exhibit segment “Mother May I”, Cassadaga) and from the story originally penned by Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions), Dread was the bell of the ball for 2010’s After Dark Horrorfest 4.

Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) and Cheryl (Hanne Steen) conducting an interview.

The story focuses on three troubled souls: Stephen (Jackson Rathbone; Twilight, S. Darko) lost his older brother to a car accident, Quaid (Shaun Evans) witnessed the brutal murder of his parents, and Cheryl (Hanne Steen) was abused by her father.  These three film students with three haunted pasts come together to pursue an academic film study of fear for a class project designed to interview subjects and plumb their way to the root of how their fears affect them.

At some point this “study” becomes unsatisfying for one of the filmmakers, who finds the need to push the project beyond any reasonable (or sane) level.  Past fear subjects are revisited and forced to relive and/or confront their debilitating fear.

Quaid (Shaun Evans) getting a little crazy.

Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) getting a little crazy.

Vivid camerawork accompanied by visceral, creatively approahced gore serve us well, adding much needed dimension to the oft-stale genre.  A broad range of effective lighting techniques, color correction and innovative gore effects sporadically litter this film with pleasant surprises.  Pleasant in hindsight, that is, since these scenes are often shocking when first encountered.  Almost reminiscent of Flatliners (1990), some psychological-hallucinogenic self-torment complements harmful situations imposed by more tangible antagonists.

Stephen’s friend Abby.

The scenes that best illustrate such carefully shot images are what I’ll call “the stripper scene” and “the steak.”  They utilize effects (including solid sound-editing/mixing) and create tones that are not necessarily ground-breaking in uniqueness, but they’re done so well overall that these scenes really stuck with me.

Cheryl getting a little crazy.

The writing is nothing special, but the actors are all quite convincing.  I only wish that more time was dedicated to developing the plot from “conducting a film study” to “becoming obsessed with human dread” before the story flew off the hinges in the third act.  I enjoyed the ending.  I just would have enjoyed a more gradual descent into madness on the parts of both the film students and their subjects.

Abby getting a little crazy.

Overall I was quite impressed and would recommend this to fans of the “difficult to watch” flavors of horror.  Anyone in need of more convincing should search for “Dread” on r/Horror (Reddit).  There have been many discussions about this film–just be wary of the spoiler-rich waters in Reddit’s tides.

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