Like a student who dropped out of class after the first day of Horror Movies 101, director William Malone makes the trend-tardy internet fad cash-in flick "fear dot com" look like a horror movie (poor lighting and graphic, misogynistic torture scenes) and sound like a horror movie (lots of screaming and scraping metal knife-slash sounds). But this tawdry, incompetent, six-years-too-late stinker couldn't be more lifeless if all its characters were already dead from Scene One.
The implausibly weak gimmick is this: Everyone who visits the haunted web site feardotcom.com -- which takes over your computer and assaults you with scenes of bondage and torture -- begins hallucinating a creepy little white-haired girl, then dies within 48 hours, bleeding from several orifices. If that sounds like entertainment to you, perhaps you should save the price of admission and put it toward therapy.
Investigating the deaths are a scruffy cop from central casting (Stephen Dorff, "Blade") and a Department of Heath inspector (Natascha McElhone, "Ronin"), both devoid of discernible personalities. When they're not delivering cardboard dialogue in performances that scream "please say 'cut!' so I can go to my trailer and lament my career," the two discover an eerie connection between the feardotcom site and the first victim of a serial killer called The Doctor (Stephen Rea, "The Crying Game"), who broadcasts the torture of a pretty blonde live on his own web site throughout the movie.
Watching a girl be kidnapped and tortured in the age of the AMBER Alert really drives home the fact that slasher flicks always have been a sick fantasy. But while they can be good movies in spite of their subject matter (the original "Halloween" and "Scream" for example), this one scrapes the bottom of the barrel -- not because it's disturbing, but because it's too superficial and inane to be as disturbing as it should be. Beyond painfully bad or even laughably bad, it's simply insipid.
The plot meanders through discombobulated hocus-pocus about supernatural energies stored in the ethers of the World Wide Web, but director Malone (who made the similarly inept "The House on Haunted Hill") never even tries to make sense of it. He's too busy toying with antiquated fun-house camera distortions, setting up a murky midnight showdown at "the old steel mill" and making sure no character ever turns on a light switch.
One thing Malone certainly isn't doing is directing his stars to credible performances. McElhone and Dorff have a couple scenes that are supposed to imply a forming romance, but the two actors are so spurious and apathetic they might as well be strangers making small talk in a long line at the grocery store.
If "fear dot com" wasn't inundated with loud music and sound effects, it couldn't even hold a person's attention for five minutes. Had the film been made in, say, 1996, one could at least have understood Warner Bros. desire to exploit the booming internet trend. But today the title sounds like a bad joke and even without seeing the movie, one has to wonder, what were they thinking?
Production compaines: Franchise Pictures, ApolloMedia Distribution, Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: William Malone
Starring: Stephen Dorff as Detective Mike Reilly, Natascha McElhone as Terry Huston, Stephen Rea as Alistair Pratt, Udo Kier as Polidori, Amelia Curtis as Denise Stone, Jeffrey Combs as Sykes, Anna Thalbach as Kate
Also starring: Gesine Cukrowski