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Dread (Anthony DiBlasi, 2009)
Somewhat sleepily paced by horror movie standards, Anthony DiBlasi’s Dread adapts the Clive Barker short story of the same name in a manner that respects the original work’s ghoulish integrity but perhaps lacks for intensity. A bit too concerned with gore to really grapple with the concept of dread, but too full of dialogue to be genuinely thrilling, the movie seems more character-oriented than the average torture porn movie, which is not an entirely good thing.
Things start promisingly, as Dread introduces a small group of graduate students who want to probe the psychological roots of fear. They devise a series of experiments that entails interviewing unwitting participants about their most traumatic experiences, hoping to learn what keeps people awake at night. From the start, much is made of the psychological instability of the fledgling scientists, and before long their relationships tangle into a tawdry soap opera of hurt feelings and bruised egos.
After an hour or so the experiment predictably goes terribly wrong and Dread shifts from soft-core porn into the realm of torture porn. The plot begins to mirror that of the Saw franchise, except where Jigsaw, the demented serial killer of those movies, devised metaphorical tortures to serve as moral retribution, the tortures here are direct reminders of the characters’ most unpleasant experiences. For a while, then, Dread feels extremely cruel, which is fitting, but the movie resolves just as it begins to gain momentum, ending with something of a whimper.
Dread is stylishly realized. DiBlasi makes the anonymous college town where the film is set worth of the film’s title. The nearly abandoned house where the action takes place seems an inevitable signpost for the trauma to come. The foreshadowing, usually relayed through the characters’ nightmares, effectively sets the tone. Thanks to all of this slick directorial work, Dread’s most immediate shortcomings only become evident in retrospect, when the shallowness of the film is laid bare. While the movie is unfolding, however, both its poor acting and its eventual lack of a satisfactory payoff scarcely seem to matter.