feardotcom (2002) Reviews and overview

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‘Want to see a really killer website?’
feardotcom aka fear dot com is a 2002 horror feature film about the mysterious deaths that occur 48 hours after users log onto the titular website.

Directed by William Malone (Parasomnia; House on Haunted Hill; Creature; Scared to Death) from a screenplay written by Josephine Coyle, based in a storyline by Moshe Diamant, with contributions by Holly Payberg-Torroija. It was an international co-production with funding from Canada, Germany, Luxembourg, the UK and the USA.

The soundtrack score was composed by Nicholas Pike (It’s Alive, 2009; Parasomnia; Love Object; Sleepwalkers; Critters 2).

Four bodies are found in New York City. The coincidence? They all died 48 hours after logging on to a site named fear.com. Tough detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) collaborates with Department of Health associate Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone) to research these mysterious deaths. The only way to find out though what really happened is to enter the site itself…


Every new leap in communications technology seems to bring with it a handful of potboiler thrillers; even back in the 1930s, Bela Lugosi toplined Murder by Television. This world-wide-web-themed horror-thriller arrived just in time for the big internet market crash of the early 2000s, uploaded to take a byte out of your time.

While the alleged setting is New York City, it takes place in an archetypal noirish, dimly-lit metropolis, in which folks have started turning up dead, bleeding from the nose and eyes. Detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff), already smarting from the fact that he never caught a serial killer dubbed ‘The Doctor’ teams up with pretty medical examiner Terry Houston (Natascha McElhone) to sleuth out the common factor behind the deaths.

Each victim logged onto the titular pleasure-and-pain-laden webcam interactive site and feardotcom.com seems to somehow drive its subscribers insane via realisations of their worst fears (an echo of John Huston’s seldom-seen Phobia, 1980). There’s an early tip-off that the Doctor is somehow filling this online prescription for carnage. But how? Why? And what ISP is everybody using that their lethal computers never freeze up or crash like some of ours do?

The only surprise in the narrative worthy of the term is that there’s a literal Ghost in the Machine at work, not just a psycho with a killer operating system. And that the people at Apple actually didn’t get any product-placement Macs onscreen – shocker!

The movie’s not terribly entertaining, on the whole; amusing only if you’re a cultural commentator out to chronicle pop paranoia in the information age, and scariest chiefly if you happen to be the talent agent handling Stephen Dorff. Or of Stephen Rea, who guest-geeks as the verbose Doctor, who recites lines like “reducing relationships to anonymous electronic impulses is a perversion – but here we offer intimacy,” as he prepares to vivisect another unwilling female volunteer.

Coping with the fact that typing away at a terminal is not a stimulating visual, any way you slice it, director William Malone has evidently mainlined much Dario Argento, Wes Craven and Blair Witch Project in preparation. Some critics were actually a tad impressed by all of the epileptic-seizure strobes and spookhouse bondage visuals (mostly pallid women being tortured) and opined that if this kind of imagery were in, say, an experimental short subject in the mid-20th century, Malone would be hailed as a mad genius of avant-garde expressionism. Okay, maybe. But it just said goth-music video to me.
Charles Cassady Jr, MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:
“The yarn, scripted by Josephine Coyle from a story by the producer Moshe Diamant, is much more grisly than it is scary and the acting is mostly very basic, with an over-the-top, quite poor performance by Stephen Rea, unusually misjudging the pitch of his role as the killer.” Derek Winnert

“This is so daft, it’s almost interesting. The coups de grace, however, are the pop video graphics that turn your eyes inside out and make your brain ache. It has become de rigueur to shoot horror/thrillers in blue/grey light, that might be mistaken for monochrome, with its shivery basement chill. Also, it rains and rains and every location resembles a disused factory.” Eye for Film

“Crucial among FeardotCom‘s failings is that it suffers from a muddled concept where it is not at all clear what is happening. There is the mysterious ghost girl on the internet; a snuff website that appears to kill everybody after they view it; cuts away every so often to Stephen Rea (in a nicely cold and chilling performance) torturing and killing women; and some extremely silly novelty deaths…” Moria

“Malone recently did a perfectly acceptable job of updating the teen schlocker The House on Haunted Hill, but fear dot com smacks too often of leering prurience rather than grown-up invention, this despite a pseudo-philosophical central speech (also cribbed from Videodrome) by a gurning Stephen Rea…” The Observer

“The screenplay is a mess, and yet the visuals are so creative this is one of the rare bad films you might actually want to see. The plot is a bewildering jumble of half-baked ideas, from which we gather just enough of a glimmer about the story to understand how it is shot through with contradictions and paradoxes. And yet I watched in admiration as a self-contained nightmare formed with the visuals.” Roger Ebert

“The sequences in which the Web site’s victims are confronted by their worst fears should have been a highlight. Instead, Malone goes into a frenzy of quick cuts and shaky camera moves each time, showing things that are more generically creepy than specific to the mentality of the characters.” San Francisco Chronicle, August 30, 2002

“This is sadistic, mean, senseless and misogynistic and loaded with unpleasant production values and a head-scratching script. It’s not that the visuals stink (they’re handled okay) it’s the story writer Josephine Coyle has put together. Filled with lousy dialogue and so many logic lapses it’s hard to keep track of…” The Video Graveyard

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