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In Praise of Dread

Film poster for Dread, displayed here in accordance with the principles of fair use.

Every so often FILMINK slips me an intelligent horror film that’s worthy of more attention.  Such was the case with Dread (Anthony DiBlasi, 2009), an excellent adaptation of a Clive Barker short story which focuses on the examination of extreme fear: “the dark behind the door.” Dread begins as film student Stephen (Twilight‘s Jackson Rathbone) is befriended by the mysterious Quaid (Shaun Evans).  At Quaid’s suggestion they embark on a “fear study” for Stephen’s film thesis, enlisting fellow student Cheryl (Hanne Steen) to edit the project.  Their investigation kicks off with a series of filmed confessional interviews where, with shades of Stephen Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989), the subjects’ vulnerability is magnified by the presence of the camera.  All the characters in Dread carry around some sort of traumatic memory which affects the way they deal with the world.  It might be a deep-seated insecurity about personal appearance, a phobia stemming from childhood trauma, or the loss of loved ones through violent death.  As the film progresses, it becomes clear that the manipulative Quaid is determined to magnify these personal fears to a point where they are no longer controllable.

The main performances in Dread are unforced and naturalistic, and the dominance of night scenes underlines the darkness at the film’s heart.  There are some gruesomely visceral moments of horror here – moments that ambush the viewer – but this is a film that largely concentrates on the horror within us.  The ending – a vegetarian’s nightmare – is masterly in its desolation.

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