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Fear Dot Com

  Fear Dot Com
"You want me to star in what?"
Natascha McElhone confronts her agent.

© 2002, Warner Bros.
All Rights Reserved

Detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff, "Deuces Wild") has just discovered something horrible. When people log onto the Web site, they witness unspeakable acts of torture, then only have 48 hours to live after viewing. Teaming up with Terry (Natascha McElhone, "Ronin"), a Department of Health officer, the two hit the streets, the internet, and the deepest recesses of their own fears to find out who is behind this ghastly site.

Besides being a wildly dated concept, "Fear Dot Com" (IMDb listing) is an awfully ridiculous horror film that thinks itself grandly mysterious and bone-shakingly horrifying. When a film contains the line "Get away from me! Where are you?," and is mostly shot in a murky fog where you can't see anything, scared is the last thing I'm likely to be. Directed by William Malone, "Fear Dot Com" continues the filmmaker's descent into terror, as Malone was a creative hand in the "Tales From the Crypt" television series, and director of the decent "House on Haunted Hill" remake from 1999. What aspect of "Fear Dot Com" appealed to Malone, I will never understand. An ultra silly melting pot of cop clichés (would you believe they have the cops eating donuts?), horror clichés (Stephen Rea plays the mad scientist here, in a performance that stinks of car payments), endless plot holes and simple-minded dialog, "Fear Dot Com" is a mess. A mess that requires miles of suspended disbelief. But Malone doesn't earn this privilege, as every time I allowed the film to take a leap of faith with its story or character rationale, I was repaid with even shakier motivations and more preposterous plot developments. Shame on me!

"Fear Dot Com" could easily qualify for a flat-out-disaster award, if it wasn't so damned headstrong. Though it sometimes reaches moronic fever pitches where only laughter is the cure, the film refuses to wink at the audience, firmly believing in its voodoo Web site mumbo-jumbo as a viably chilling idea. Malone, stealing from himself, trots out the very same fast cutting, ghost tricks he used in "Haunted Hill," this time with more elaborate special effects, as if to cover up the film's total lack of believability. I kept waiting for the fun to kick in, when the investigation, carefully set up in the opening act of the film, would hit twists and turns as the two leads try to find out why this site is bonkers. But those moments never come, because Malone is more interested in his ghost story, even if the script isn't exactly written that way.

Though I'm sure no one is coming into the film hoping for grand performances, "Fear Dot Com" does stand out for its rather incompetent ones. McElhone, a young, decently-gifted actress who has made good impressions before ("The Devil's Own," "Surviving Picasso"), is stuck here in perpetual mouth-agape stances, uttering the phrase "Oh my God!" so many times that I smell a drinking game on the horizon. It's truly scary to see Malone misuse her so terribly.

Yes, the movie is really about a killer Web site. It's difficult to take "Fear Dot Com" seriously, especially when the most horrifying thing on the Web isn't a deadly site, but those monthly AOL fees.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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