Feardotcom is full of inconsistencies and contradictions, but none are more disturbing than the fact that not a single policeman wears gloves at any of the umpteen crime scenes scattered throughout the film. Even worse, the officers of the peace display a total lack of regard for scene or evidence integrity. They’re there for atmosphere, not action, but they undermine any of the film’s vague stabs at believability. It’s not a good sign when the scariest thing in a scary movie is the characters’ dearth of common sense.
Clichéd from the get-go, feardotcom commences on a dark and stormy night with the gruesome death of Udo Kier. (It’s worth noting that Kier’s Web site, www.udokier.de, is far more frightening than this movie. What’s more, it’s free.) NYPD detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) teams up with Department of Health employee Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone) to investigate the circumstances surrounding several murders in which the victims exhibit bleeding from the mouth and eyes. This creates what must be one of the oddest couples in a long line of strange crime-fighting bedfellows.
It’s not unreasonable to think that a detective would be just a smidge irritated that a non-policeperson would bull her way into his investigation, or that a Department of Health worker would have a clue about communicable disease. That would be a mistake. It takes Terry at least 10 minutes to deduce that the cause of the victims’ deaths could be Ebola, after which she basically says “Oh, well!” to the fact that she and everybody else on the scene are now likely infected. Would you want her as a partner?
The only positive aspect of this is that if the cause were indeed Ebola, Terry would soon be dead. Then we would not have to spend the next 90 minutes watching her talk to her creepy cat or make goo-goo eyes at Mike. (Good news! Despite the utter lack of chemistry between Dorff and McElhone, Mike not only sleeps with Terry, but also gets up in the middle of the night and leaves a classic “Sorry, gotta run!” note on her nightstand. feardotcom covers the entire range of human emotion, no doubt.)
Unfortunately for us, a hemorrhagic virus is not the culprit. This leads Mike to believe that his old serial-killer nemesis, Hannibal Lecter (who has changed his name to Alistair Pratt and is played by Stephen Rea, who looks more like Dwight Yoakam every day — again, a thought way scarier than the actual movie), must be back to his old tricks. As the bodies pile up and hit closer and closer to home, Terry, using her illustrious Department of Health credentials to gain access to police files, enter crime scenes and remove evidence from lockup, figures out that all the victims died exactly 48 hours after looking at a Web site that allegedly broadcasts live murders — a snuff site.
In fact, Mike turns out to just be along for the ride, standing around preening in his trendy leather jacket while Terry comes up with every piece of the murderer’s puzzle and makes every leap of logic. Things completely fall apart right about the time she and Mike discover that, in addition to the sadistic activities of the elusive Pratt, the ghost of one of his earliest victims is killing people as a way to exact her revenge, which makes about as much sense as … well, not wearing gloves at a crime scene.
The only thing feardotcom really has going for it is its use of a supernatural little girl as a harbinger of death, making it part of a long history of SLGMs – scary-little-girl movies. The upcoming Ghost Ship as well as last summer’s Bless the Child also feature otherworldly young female moppets, but the pattern can be traced back past horror-suspense classics such as Poltergeist and The Shining. There’s always the possibility that the recent glut of SLGMs (Remember the girl ghost in The Sixth Sense? The vengeful apparition of What Lies Beneath? Stir of Echoes? Curly Sue?) means things are coming full circle and we’ll soon see some SLGMs that are on a par with the high-quality ones of yore.
More than likely, though, we’ll just see another exploitative, incoherent fright flick made on the quick. That’s the thing about cheap thrills. They’re not worth the film stock they’re printed on, and they never, ever last.
Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].