Dread Movie Review

Dread Movie Review
Not exactly the feel-good movie of the year
Updated: 05-06-2009

What are you afraid of? What makes you break into a cold sweat, just thinking about it? What gives you that metallic tang of dread in your mouth? These questions are certainly nothing new, yet they are eternally explored both in real, and reel, life.

A movie within a movie, Dread — based on a short story by horror icon Clive Barker — follows a rather unholy trinity of grad students making a thesis film also entitled "Dread". These scholars, of course, have their own fears and foibles, hardly qualifying them as impartial researchers. (And let's face it, impartiality is rare at best: each of us color our own conclusions based upon something within ourselves — more on my own hot-buttons in a bit.)
Quaid (Shaun Evans) is the "asshole". He's a confident, cocky dude who comes up with the idea to round up the local coeds, put them in front of a video camera, and get them to discuss their innermost fears — they range from wet napkins, to staring death in the eye — but deep inside, he is hiding a terrible secret. Not so guarded with his own insecurities is the "sensitive one" Stephen (Jackson Rathbone), an empathetic young man with an angelic face and a truly caring heart. Rounding out the trio of filmmakers is "no-nonsense" Cheryl (Hanne Steen), who has her inner scars but doesn't let them show.
While there's an amusing roundtable of interview subjects going rapid-fire before the little video camera, two of them take center stage as a shark-like Quaid smells blood in the water. First up is Joshua (Jonathan Readwin), an eager-to-please fellow who suffered a temporary deafness and fears it could happen again. Then there is Abby (Laura Donnelly), a shy, bookish girl whose cross to bear is all too visible in the form of a huge port-wine birthmark which obscures half of her otherwise beautiful face.
As Quaid uses his superior intellect, powers of manipulation, and asserts his vicious need to make other people even more afraid than he once was, Dread has moments which are every bit as powerful as In The Company of Men, or American Psycho. After Quaid tires of easier prey, he sets his sights on Stephen and Cheryl. Quaid is an interesting character, because he's not just a one-dimensional baddie — he makes art, appreciates literature, and enjoys the finer things. He's got a quick wit, and a magnetic personality. He's good looking, and wealthy. But really, it's Stephen and Abby we bleed for; both Rathbone and Donnelly should be extremely proud of their performances.
As I mentioned, my own buttons of dread were pushed from time to time as I watched Dread. They are minor quibbles, but I had a little trouble with a few things which always bother me in movies: Dizzying shaky-cam, cheesy pop songs, and bad wigs.
Now, the cinematography is mostly excellent — lenser Sam McCurdy has done all of director Neil Marshall's movies — thanks to beautiful composition augmented with an inviting sepia-saturated gritty warmth. McCurdy's lavish attention to Quaid's nude paintings (done by Nicole Balzarini, cleverly mirroring Clive Barker's own artistic style, without actually aping) is essential, without being obvious. But there were too many camera-quakes for my taste.
Then there was the music. The score (which may be temp — I did see an early screening) is OK. Not especially noteworthy, but not an issue. However the vocal songs, I fear, will date the movie in the years to come. I was especially annoyed by a "musical montage" of two romantic couples intercut to the moody sway of an emo song.
The wigs. Axe-Man (Carl McCrystal) was definitely having some fitting issues. And since much of the focus of this evil character is on his looming upper torso, and the back of his head, it was disconcerting. As for Rathbone, if he is not wearing a hairpiece or extensions… he should fire his stylist.
All right. That's it. The nitpicky things which bugged me, personally.
Fans of unflinching, unfunny horror, and Clive Barker, will not be disappointed. While Dread is one of the rare (if not only) non-supernatural Barker parables, it's bolstered with lots of heart-poundingly creepy dream sequences, gory hallucinations, and ultra-violent murderous flashbacks. There is also loyal attention paid to the trademark Barker gross-outs (I predict a rise in vegetarianism in the horror community after this movie comes out).
Overall, the film is so effective, accomplished, and yes (!) — scary, that it is hard to believe it's from a first time writer/director. DiBlasi shows real promise with Dread. First: I can't wait to see Dread again. Then: I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson

Be sure and read our interview with Clive Barker (he talks about Dread in Pt. 2)


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