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2 out of 4 stars

Country
USA
Language
English

FearDotCom

Directed by William Malone

Written by Josephine Coyle

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Starring Stephen Dorff, Stephen Rea and Natascha McElhone

Classification: R

Rating: **

The Internet as the locus of evil has popped up in a number of movies recently, including Olivier Assayas Cannes-competition film, Demonlover, and the apocalyptic Japanese ghost story Pulse from Kiyoshi Kurosawa (to be remade by Wes Craven). The latest, FearDotCom, is a studio B-movie that is gruesome and bewildering, featuring lots of bruising computer-generated effects, subbasement atmosphere and glimpses of women being bound and dismembered. There's potential here for a macabre cult favourite touching on themes of technology and the body-mind split, but the movie's progression into rambling incoherence gives new meaning to the phrase "fatal script error."

The movie stars Stephen Dorff as a gruff detective and the English actress Natascha McElhone ( Mrs. Dalloway) as a health officer who join together to solve a series of gruesome deaths. (Her deer-in-the-headlights performance is a classic case of a good actress flailing about in a role that makes no sense.) The victims, who bleed from the eyes and nose before succumbing to an apparent fright attack, have all logged onto a Web site offering virtual sadism: the clumsily-named feardotcom.com.

The virtual hostess, who looks like Sharon Stone with Joan Crawford's eyebrows, asks in a faintly European accent, "Do you like to watch?" Apparently the answer, "Only if it's good," does not apply.

Director William Malone ( The House on Haunted Hill) shoots almost everything in tones of blue and black, and the look achieves the mouldy wallpaper texture of the movie Seven. The movie is almost constantly interior and ominous. The villain, as we learn fairly quickly, is a man called The Doctor (played by Irish actor Stephen Rea, using a theatrically effeminate American accent) who likes to cut up women on-line, somehow with the goal of proving the puritanical presumption that voyeurism leads to hideous violence. Along the way, horror fans may recognize a little blond ghost girl with the bouncing ball borrowed from Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist.

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Midst the carnage and techno-rubble, there are a few deft touches: Jeffrey Combs plays another detective who can't stop eating and smoking long enough to finish a sentence, and Michael Sarrazin is a phony computer scientist and alcoholic who wrote a book on psychic energy on the Internet.

But the movie's merits are outweighed by the confusion of the story. Audiences embrace films such as The Silence of the Lambs that take them places where they don't want to go with skill; they dismiss the movies that disgust them with no moral payoff.

For the timid or curious, it can be safely reported that feardotcom.com takes you to an innocuous Warner Bros. site promoting the movie. The more direct , takes you, not to a scary place, but a forum that offers debates about Franklin Delano Roosevelt's assertion that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

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