I've mentioned this before, it's really rare that a movie gets any sort of reaction from me. Sure there are times that I'll say "that's awesome" or "that sucked", but a genuine emotional response is rare. That being said, over the years there have been a few movies that have gotten to me in one way or another, fear, sadness, empathy, uncontrollable laughter, and even the occasional exclamatory fist pump. Here lately, it's been movies that have gone so far as to leave me uneasy as the credits rolled. When I watched Martyrs, I just sat there while the credits rolled trying to process what I had seen, when I watched A Serbian Film I went and took a shower knowing that I may never truly feel clean again no matter how much scrubbing I did. Yesterday I added another movie to that list, and I never even saw it coming.
The Horrorfest films have been a hit or miss bunch every year for me. Sure there's usually one or two that are worth the time and maybe even owning a copy of, but rarely would I consider them truly effective in any sort of way. Nightmare Man was cool because of the twist, Wicked Little Things, Mulberry Street, Zombies of Mass Destruction, Lake Mungo, all of which I enjoyed to some extent but nothing to really be overly excited about. So as you can imagine, the fact that I still haven't seen all of last year's bunch hasn't exactly been keeping me awake at night. Still, I planned on seeing all of them eventually, and I sat down to watch Dread without any knowledge whatsoever as to what I was getting myself into.
Dread is about an outcast college student, Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) who meets and befriends an edgy stranger, Quaid (Shaun Evans) while smoking outside of a theater. As the two become closer, they end up working on a project to document what other people dread, which Stephen plans to use for his thesis. They add one more person to the team, Cheryl (Hanne Steen) who will handle editing, and begin to interview other students as to what causes them to feel fear or dread. After ending up with only minor phobias, like spiders, clowns, and heights, unsatisfied with the results, Quaid takes matter into his own hands to truly explore the idea of dread and what people must endure to truly experience it.
To say much more than that might ruin this movie, and I don't want to do that. I've read lots of impressions of Dread online, and several put it in the "torture porn" genre, which is unfair in my opinion. To me, torture porn is a cheap title that exists only for the shock value. There's nothing in this movie that happens solely for the shock value. Quaid is an incredibly fucked up individual due to some serious childhood trauma, everything he does comes from a twisted curiousity and desire to somehow cope with what he went through. He's not torturing people just for sadistic pleasure of watching others suffer. That in itself is what differentiates this from the torture porn movies of the world, or at least from what my experience has been with them. That's not to say that what he does isn't shocking though, in fact it's pretty damn disturbing, especially in one instance.
If this movie has any flaw, it's that it takes a little too long to get to the goods. In the beginning I was almost ready to write it off as one of those movies that seems to be just a little too in love with itself, done by a pretentious up and coming director fresh out of film school. The fact that it's a Horrorfest movie already didn't give me a whole lot of confidence going in, so the slow start felt like a sign of impending doom for Dread. Luckily the cast are all pretty good, Rathbone overdoes the whole meek, introvert thing just a bit, but it isn't enough to distract. Shaun Evans is the standout as Quaid, he plays the tortured soul turned psychopath thing pretty damn well. In the beginning, I kinda liked him and by the end I fucking hated him. I call that a win for Mr. Evans. They all kept me interested enough in what was going on to keep watching, and I'm glad I did.
Now, having no prior knowledge of this movie, after loving it so much I of course ran to IMDB to read up on the people responsible. Turns out it's based on a short story by Clive Barker, which made perfect sense after watching the movie. And yes, I realize it clearly states that it's from the mind of Clive Barker on the poster, but I had never seen the poster until I sat down to look the movie up, so shut up. This was the first feature for director Anthony DiBlasi, but he's no stranger to Barker's work as he in credited as a Producer for The Plague, The Midnight Meat Train, and Book of Blood. Why this guy isn't handling the Hellraiser reboot is ridiculous. He obviously gets Clive's work. His second directing gig, Cassadaga, is currently in post-production, and you can bet I'll be keeping an eye on it. I'm also going to be on the hunt for a copy of the original short story that Dread was based on. Haven't read any Clive Barker in years, I'm excited about starting it.
As mentioned, I've read a lot of reactions to this movie, and as per usual not everybody was as impressed with it as I was. I like to think that while I may not be hard to impress to some degree, it really takes a lot to for a movie to actually make me feel uneasy even after the credits roll. Dread has added itself to a pretty exclusive club in that regard for me. Hard for me to recommend it based on any other particular movie, as aside from maybe Martyrs there isn't a whole lot like it out there, and even the Martyrs comparison isn't really all that close.There's blood and gore, but not gratuitious, so it's going to be a hard sell for gorehounds. At the core, this movie is more psychological thriller than true horror, it certainly isn't immature enough to fit into the torture porn category. As with most Clive Barker offerings, don't go into this expecting a happy ending either, you won't be getting one. Slow beginning aside, this is an effective, entertaining movie, and easily one of the most disturbing films I've seen in recent memory. A must see.