Review: Dread

Three students decide to study fear as part of their university thesis in this horror film based on a Clive Barker short story. Anthony DiBlasi is the first-time director.

Directed by: Anthony DiBlasi
Written by: Anthony DiBlasi
Starring: Jackson Rathbone, Shaun Evans, Paloma Faith, Hanne Steen, Laura Donnelly, Jonathan Readwin
Released: 2009 / Genre: Horror / Country: UK/USA / IMDB
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Imagine if Saw took itself seriously. Jigsaw decides to replace the kid’s tricycle and the mechanical clown for a much more sinister sexually-charged university student with serious social dysfunction. The wannabe psychotic is given a platform and allowed to wax lyrical about the troubles of growing up after witnessing his parent’s bloody demise at the hands of an axe-wielding man-monster. I think it would help him, and his victims, if he moved out of the house that played host to the limb-hacking carnage. With no housekeeping skills in sight, a once-loved home has become the real estate embodiment of this unfortunate man’s ordeal. But if the dirty wallpaper, broken windows and limited sunlight doesn’t turn someone away from this house of doom, the fact it is a great big horror story cliché certainly should.

But in Anthony DiBlasi’s debut feature film it should never get to the creepy house in the middle of nowhere in the first place. Chief protagonist Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) should have realised he was getting himself into trouble when he decided to conduct a fear study with a complete stranger. The stranger, fellow student Quaid (Shaun Evans), is quite obviously insane. He doesn’t try to hide it but Stephen really is an idiot, even coaxing the love of his life into joining their predictable journey towards destruction. It isn’t a great start, leaving you with very little sympathy for these troubled people. DiBlasi, exampling his immaturity behind the camera and the pen, hopes we will fall for their hard-luck stories but it is all procrastination before the more dramatic turn of events take place in the film’s final third. But by then, it is too late.

dread, clive barker, jackson rathbone, anthony diblasi,

Based on Clive Barker’s short story of the same name, the film follows Stephen, Quaid and Cheryl (Hanne Steen) as they complete a film about fear for their university thesis. They interview various people, questioning what their deepest fear is and why. But Stephen, who has an ulterior motive (what, really?), wants to take their study further where questions are replaced by real life situations. The thin plot highlights the deficiencies of DiBlasi’s script that, instead of focusing on what makes the short story interesting, simply adds more characters to flesh it out. It makes for an overlong set-up that does the finale no justice at all. Characters you can have little respect for are clueless to what the audience can see a mile off. Although the conclusion is undeniably shocking it is predictable and unsatisfying.

I do however believe writer-director Anthony DiBlasi has potential. He shoots Dread with a sense of style that shrouds the film in a cold, foreboding aesthetic with its dilapidated principle setting contrasting the clinical artificialness of the campus corridors and classrooms. He also provides the film with some genuinely unsettling sequences – one scene involves making a character, whose worst fear is deafness following a childhood injury, unable to hear in a moment of terrifying torture, while a lifelong vegetarian has to eat a maggot-infested cut of beef. It’s graphic and gut-churning but confidently handled by a filmmaker who knows how to draw a reaction out of his audience. But the style could have done with a little more substance.

While Hanne Steen and Shaun Evans deliver decent performances, DiBlasi fails to coax the best out of Jackson Rathbone whose crucial role as Stephen is one of the film’s biggest weaknesses. If the director has anything to learn it would be around his characters who left me icily cold. Dread has a few moments of intrigue but ultimately it is a lifeless, drama-less example of the potential pitfalls of taking a short story and increasing its scope for feature-length film.

Review by Daniel StephensSee all reviews

This review is part of 31 Days of Horror:

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Rodney Reply

    Yeah, I hate it when one of the main characters in a film behaves like an idiot – the dude in Paranormal Activity, for example – who should know better.

    Am enjoying this 31 Days of Horror, Dan, although with Jennifer’s Body yesterday I’m trying to figure out if the films themselves are horror, or if it’s the genre you’re discussing!! LOL!!!

  2. Dan Reply

    @Rodney: Haha. I can assure you there are some real gems upcoming. A few films most people know about and one or two little-seen new horror films that are well-worth checking out. But yes, Day 2 and Day 3 have featured some weak examples of the horror film. However, while Dread gets 2 out of 5, it is A LOT better than the truly awful (and HORROR-ible) Jennifer’s Body.

    I still think the best thing about Jennifer’s Body is its terrible title which can be used as a wonderful play on words. I’ll reiterate, there is nothing wrong, whatsoever, about Jennifer’s body, it’s just a shame the film is so naff.

  3. Will Reply

    Ah man, I was eager to see this. I just read the Clive Barker story and enjoyed it. Sounds like they did another poor adaptation of his work. Man, Clive Barker can’t win; he always gets dumb films from his stories.

  4. Dan Reply

    @Will: I think something like Stand By Me brings out the best of a short story and makes it work in feature-length film format (namely, it focused on the kids friendship and how they come-of-age together) and didn’t feel like it had been stretched.

    Closer to Dread, Candyman worked as a feature-length film despite it being based on a Clive Barker short story because it had a great antagonist and a captivating struggle between Candyman and Virgina Madsen’s character.

    Instead of focusing on bringing out the central ideas of the short story Dread just adds more fuel to the fire. It therefore feels over-long and it only gets going once the elements of the short story kick back in (after we’ve had to endure writer-director DiBlasi’s added extras – which are pretty dull to say the least).

  5. Custard Reply

    I haven’t even heard of this film. But it is not a real surprise as you know I am not very good at HORROR films. I scare easy!!

    :-)

  6. Will Reply

    That “waiting for the original story elements to kick back in”, is one of my most hated things about adaptations. Ugh, I’ll avoid this one.

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