FeardotCom (2002)
Directed by William Malone

Artistic Value: * ½
Entertainment Value: * * *

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After Detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) discovers that a number of persons who have died of apparently unrelated causes were all bleeding from their eyes, he suspects a disease and contacts Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone), who works for the Department of Health. She, however, soon learns that these individuals had not been infected with any virus. Investigating further, this pair eventually realize that each of their subjects died exactly forty-eight hours after visiting a strange website, which could, somehow, be related to an unsolved case involving a man known as the Doctor (Stephen Rea), who has been showing on the Internet videos of himself torturing and murdering various young women.

FeardotCom, William Malone's reworking of Gore Verbinski's The Ring (which is itself a remake), is an entirely predictable, frequently contrived, but occasionally entertaining movie.

Not only is the story the director tells plagiarized, but the more intriguing parts of the original have been removed and replaced with others that are utterly hackneyed. There is hardly an element of the narrative that the viewer will not be able to foresee, even without having previously watched The Ring. From the policeman's partner who meets a grisly end to the evil fiend who refuses to die to the quirky, obsessed male cop who ends up working with a woman educated in the sciences, the movie is absolutely filled with clichés. Malone even manages to burden his tale with several obvious red herrings and actions by various characters that make sense only insofar as they are useful in moving the narrative forward. There is almost nothing complimentary I can say about the story.

What is more, even though Verbinski was able to overcome the frankly silly premiss of his film, which Hideo Nakata, the director of the Japanese original, was not able to do, Malone appears to have modelled his own efforts on Nakata's. He reveals too much about the mysteries behind the deadly website his characters have discovered and thereby renders the whole of FeardotCom absurd. The explanations he gives just sound silly and, consequently, detract from the movie's capacity to frighten the viewer. The ideas underlying the plot are far more hokey than they are unnerving.

Despite its numerous faults, FeardotCom is actually visually appealing. The director's depictions of his characters' hallucinations, which are brought on by their viewing the titular website, are particularly evocative. By mingling, in brief but often repeated sequences, images of young women being tortured, a platinum haired girl dressed in white, a naked albino woman crouching on the ground while vomiting blood, rusting industrial structures, terrifying surgical devices, and the like, Malone is able to conjure up feelings of near panic. Even when not presenting such horrid bursts of cruel madness, the director maintains a feeling of threatening gloom with his rain drenched exteriors and dilapidated but frequently ornate interiors that gives his film a consistently sorrowful and ominous quality. Such elements are, however, not nearly as emotive as are the movie's final scenes. These are, for much of their duration, dominated by strangely unsettling sepias and punctuated by various repulsive images that stir up a poignant sense of terror. It is a real shame that such effective devices have been joined to such an atrocious narrative.

While I cannot say that FeardotCom is a successful film, its visual qualities are so captivating and lend it such an eery, disturbing feel that it is worth watching. It may not tell an engaging story or include intriguing characters, but it is a pleasure to look at.

Review by Keith Allen

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