Today, it’s easy to pick out something frightening about the Internet. The Dark Web, conspiracy websites, identity theft, data-mining, online predators – take your pick. But back in the early 2000’s, long before SnapChat or TikTok, the Internet was still a nascent entity. Downloading a single song could take an entire day. And people really didn’t know how the Internet worked. Most importantly, Hollywood didn’t know how the Internet worked. Of course, this didn’t stop filmmakers from conjuring up technological nightmares from the World Wide Web. Some of these movies – like Pulse – were genre classics. Others – like FearDotCom – were as forgettable as ICQ. Sometimes time puts bad movies in a different light. Nearly 20 years later, is FearDotCom a misunderstood cult classic or just a ‘bad movie’?
Following a strange accidental death in a New York subway tunnel, Detective Mike Reilly and public health researcher Terry Huston investigate what looks like a viral infection. However, as more bodies turn up, Reilly and Huston dismiss a virus as the common link. Soon they discover that all of the victims visited the same website – FearDotCom – a voyeuristic torture page. And each victim then died 48 hours later … from their worst fears. When Reilly and Huston open the website they’re immediately haunted by disturbing visions. Now with time ticking away they have no choice but to uncover the secrets of FearDotCom.
FearDotCom Downloads a Messy, Convoluted Story
On the surface, FearDotCom suffers from comparisons to much better movies. Given its ‘ghost in the Internet’ story, Pulse will probably immediately pop into horror fans’ mind. But FearDotCom also bares some passing resemblance to The Ring and Se7en. Still the movie’s problems run deeper than falling short of comparative expectations. Simply put, Josephine Coyle’s screenplay is a mess of confused storytelling, poor dialogue, and inexplicable character decisions.
…Josephine Coyle’s screenplay is a mess of confused storytelling, poor dialogue, and inexplicable decisions.
Just when exactly the movie’s story goes off the rails is hard to pinpoint. Not that it matters. At about the halfway point, you probably won’t know what’s going on and you’ll be even less likely to care. If Pulse contemplated how the Internet ultimately isolates us from another, FearDotCom almost has something clever to say about what would soon be the viral nature (and cruelty) of the World Wide Web. Too bad it’s an idea lost in an illogical plot and ugly film-making.
FearDotCom, Ugly and Dull, Lets Down Talented Cast
While FearDotCom is near-incomprehensible, it could have been watchable – if it was a passable horror experience. But director William Malone (House on Haunted Hill) hasn’t exactly made a surrealist horror movie here. Don’t expect Phantasm or Carnival of Souls. There’s little in they way of an intentionally crafted nightmare atmosphere. Occasionally, Malone hits a low target of throwing disturbing imagery up on the screen. It’s certainly not surprising that Malone made this movie amidst the rise of the ‘Torture Porn’ subgenre. Unfortunately, this imagery never truly coalesces into a consistently scary movie. Moreover, much of this imagery is set against the backdrop of an ugly-looking movie. Everything is dark and grimy, not unlike Dark City or Se7en, but without any of the pathos of those movies.
Poor Stephen Dorff looks like he’d rather be just about anywhere other than in this movie.
Trapped in this scattershot and grimy affair is a talented cast. Poor Stephen Dorff (Blade, Leatherface) looks like he’d rather be just about anywhere other than in this movie. As a result, he seems about as bored with the movie as you’re likely to be while watching it. To her credit, Natascha McElhone makes a more spirted attempt to work with the material. Though the screenplay doesn’t offer up much of a rationale for her character’s involvement in the story, McElhone at least offers a sympathetic, likable character for audiences. For his part, Stephen Rea might have mistaken the tone FearDotCom was trying to capture. His performance veers towards intentional scene-chewing. Sadly, it doesn’t make the movie anymore enjoyable. It’s nice to see a few familiar genre faces, including Udo Kier and Jeffrey Coombs, but their presence can’t justify the viewing experience.
Feardotcom Still An Invalid URL For Horror
Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Nearly 20 years after it bombed in theatres, FearDotCom remains a uniquely bad movie. In spite of the talent present in front of the camera, this techno-horror is ugly, derivative, incomprehensible, and dull. By the time things plod to their inevitable conclusion, you’ll wish you could take Ethan Hawkes’ exit from this movie. In fact, one might have trouble pinpointing just one precise thing wrong with this mess. Regardless, FearDotCom is more painful than dial-up Internet.