Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dread (2009)

Keep your fears to yourself

This Clive Barker adaptation plays out at first as a psychological drama that deals with questions of dread, terror, complexes and fear, though through the eyes of everyday students, as opposed to a clinical study with ethics, morals and stricter procedures in place. "Dread" is about a man's search--even if it means pushing someone to the limits--for what people are hiding deep down and how they come to terms with their secrets as he's still figuring out how to come to terms with his own biggest fear that he lugs around and consumes him inside. Though this doesn't appear to be a film about resolve as it only uses the premise to eventually unfold into a kind of twisted horror story to potentially get dread out of the audience instead of answering the questions it originally posed in a roundabout way. So to call this wholly a psychological film or to say that it will leave you intellectually stimulated by its close would be stretching it.

While smoking in an alley, a man named Quaid meets another student named Stephen who's taking a philosophy course to fill one of his requirements despite being a film major. Quaid goes on about theory, that attention should be focused on the things we don't understand and fear. "If you don't go out and find the beast, sooner or later the beast will come and find you." On the surface Quaid lives life by the fullest and Stephen, despite not admitting it at first, lived somewhat safe beforehand without risk, therefore avoiding his own fears without realizing it. Stephen had a sibling die in teenage years and he lets on about a fear regarding it. They join a partnership to do a project that goes to the roots of what someone dreads, though they leave the conclusion open ended on whether it's going to be generally helpful and therapeutic, for personal reasons or just for information's sake, which causes the film to roam about in areas and go off and on track. The interviews only produce minor material at first, until their editor, Cheryl, steps in front of the camera and explains about a childhood trauma. It's Quaid's turn and he backs away when the camera gets pointed at himself. Though he empties out his medication cabinet to let go of himself, only to wake up from a nightmare and a story about abruptly losing his parents as a boy.

Relationships go from building up to being torn apart in some melodramatic scenes. The characters get pressed about what their fears are and Quaid seems to take it more seriously than his counterparts due to still holding onto fear and the others reasonably letting go. He slowly starts to lose it but in short bursts, such as with violence or putting someone else's life on the line. Actually having a fear is something to be fearful in itself as it can catch you at the worst of times when you try and avoid it. Even as far fetched as that premise sounds, I'm sure it could have clenched that idea, though it doesn't always make that believably happen. For something of that sort, you'd have to completely lock a viewer in and this doesn't always do that. For instance, I might have an irrational fear of, say, heights but not an irrational fear of consuming meat whatsoever, and would have to relate more to the experience to gain a new perspective. Except the film doesn't always concentrate on one for long and occasionally goes off into some other areas about their personal lives that might not always have to do with the main agenda. The flow of the film is gradual to show its many transitions, though it still feel somewhat "bookish" in some areas, like you have significant chapters or scenarios that feel somewhat penned in around surrounding filler material in an attempt to connect it together.

Quaid's character seems somewhat manipulated to push the narrative a certain way. He doesn't always fit in, even in the uncertain terms of a disturbed trauma. He seems to hallucinate when it's convenient, backlash when it fits the scene, and then he's with it when it comes time to understanding his condition for a rational person. Though part of the character goes to show how far one human can punish another if they feel they are justified. But this doesn't always portray that, and goes for an unpredictable approach to get a rise out of a viewer, which kind of takes away from its staying power beyond the first look since that doesn't always come with refinement within itself. If there could be a relating point to the antagonist it's that he meant well but then crossed the line too far over an ethical boundary. Instead of observation he took it into his own hands on a personal level. That might have been a solid setup but that outlook was never fully capitalized on though and this doesn't go the sympathy route either--at least in an authentic sense--but instead keeps him as a slowly unveiled monster that might never be understood by himself or others. This makes it look at first like a gradual descent into madness or a childhood case that he couldn't help to prevent, but he seems more like a true sociopath or someone with an antisocial personality disorder even beforehand since it comes out as if it was second nature.

In the meantime, this shows a share of sex and some drinking. It's hard to say if the sex was a means to push the story with something to say or for entertainment purposes to keep your attention titillated--possibly both. I mean, it's a state of vulnerability and when you're most open, and it does show their personalities through action such as going into it for lust, validation and potential love. "Dread" began on good footing. This posed some contemplative questions about the title sake and the pacing moves along naturally with a sense for human drama to show fear in the flesh instead of on paper. Quaid's house has a grimy feel to it whenever someone steps in but don't at first notice the sense of degradation and unwelcome nature it radiates about himself. Jackson Rathbone does an excellent job as Stephen by effectively transitioning to a range of emotions when it calls for it. The character of Abby was a solid touch that she can't hide her fear but has to carry it wherever she goes. The editing in the film effectively moved the film along at first by splicing together two scenes at once to pull you into the story.

"Dread" attempts to build on itself by giving the audience a set of problems and to see what it all means, but then instead changes direction by stepping over the mark to turn over to one man's sociopathic tendencies and obsessions without always showing or giving enough to fill in the blanks of where he's coming from. From his perspective, he uses people and favors sadism at the expense of others. This is a film to showcase the making of a villain but it never makes him the cool type of antihero we cinema goers have come to love, but instead he's the deplorable guy that you know all about and are stuck with, which is going to cause some to squirm in their seats nonetheless, partly due to the other characters not always doing anything significant or heroic enough to stop his reign of terror. The ending brought this film down by closing like a share of the "Saw" films to possibly dodge where you'll think it'll go, whereas in the beginning it went out of its way to go a different route than a torture film, as well as by setting up some characters with different angles to their personalities than being mere objects to rid of. "Saw" at least had a highly-devised morbid game angle with rules and methods that you can count on, but, on the other hand, "Dread" tries to move into different transitions, which is fine, but ends up feeling like a cop out with nothing but a caught-you-by-surprise shock value to show for the experience.

Rating: 6/10

Director: Anthony DiBlasi
Stars: Shaun Evans, Jackson Rathbone, Hanne Steen, Laura Donnelly
Link: IMDB

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