UK/US | 2009 | Directed by Anthony DiBlasi
Logline: Three American college students undertake a project tackling people’s perception of fear only to have one of the students unravel and explode.
Clive Barker’s original short story, “Dread”, which is included in his Books of Blood Volume 2, is substantially different from the version adapted for the big screen by director Anthony DiBlasi, and the differences, especially the ending, have had many Barker fans in a quiet rage. I’ve not read the short story, but I’m aware of the dramatically different direction that original narrative takes.I discovered this after watching DiBlasi’s movie, which made me certainly very curious, especially as Barker is one of the producers onboard the movie production, but it didn’t change my opinion of the movie.
Stephen (Jackson Rathbone), a student on an American university campus, is about to undertake a cinema thesis, and he’s befriended by Quaid (Shaun Evans), another student. Quaid convinces Stephen to do a joint project, recording interviews with subjects about their greatest fears, and the dread that eats away when they think about such fears. Stephen asks his colleague Cheryl (Hanne Steen), an editor whom he fancies, if she’ll come onboard, which she does. The three begin interviewing subjects, but the results aren’t what Quaid is after. He wants much more grittier stories.
Quaid has a big skeleton in his closet. Well, actually, more like a demon. He reveals his childhood horror to Stephen, after he learns of Stephen’s childhood loss. Cheryl comes clean with a tale of woe of her own. Now we’re getting somewhere thinks Quaid, but the best is yet to come. Y’see, Quaid is a fairly traumatised individual, and he needs to work through some issues. As a young boy he witnessed the brutal slaying of his parents at the hands of a psychopath wielding a sharp axe. This double murder is the movie’s opening scene, and it packs a sensational wallop.
But there are more wallops to come. Dread has a nasty left hook, and there are a couple of blows that are almost sucker punches. I must hand it to DiBlasi, he’s delivered a seriously good horror movie. He understands the use of tension and suspense and, more importantly, he understands the power of a moment of extreme violence - a gore gag, if you will - and that it is heavily reliant on the editing and lighting. Dread uses both to very good effect in a number of set-pieces.
There is a fourth, pivotal character, Abby (Laura Donnelly), another student, a very pretty girl afflicted with a huge black birthmark that covers half her face. She has a crush on Stephen, but she is crushed by her own insecurity issues. Quaid, it seems, has an agenda. And following a violent outburst, everything will soon collide. As the movie is an English-American co-production, there are a few English actors amongst the leads. Evans and Donnelly are both British, each with strong native accents (Liverpudlian and Irish, respectively), yet they sport bang on American accents, I had no idea, and I’m usually pretty good at spotting them. All the leads deliver excellent performances, I couldn’t single out anyone.
Admittedly there is an element of the far-fetched that begins to creep into the story fabric, but not enough to ruin the enjoyment of a thoroughly gripping tale, a truly nightmarish scenario that only comes to the harshest of light in the movie’s final quarter. If you think you know how this one’s going to pan out, think again. This is one for the True Believers.
Dread was picked up by After Dark Horrorfest and released as one of their “8 Films To Die For” in 2010. It is up with the best of the series, alongside The Abandoned (2006), Wicked Little Things (2006), Borderland (2007), Autopsy (2008), The Brøken (2008), and two Aussie ones, Dying Breed (2008) and Lake Mungo (2008).