Dread (2009) review

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Synopsis: College researchers decide to study the feeling of dread, tracing its roots and causes. Eventually, they decide to delve deeper, forcing their subjects to face their fears head on.

I recently watched the movie Dread, one of the 8 Films To Die For. I’m a huge fan of the film series, and I love their support of indie filmmakers of the horror variety. Most of these films we wouldn’t see otherwise, so After Dark’s production and distribution is a huge benefit to the genre as a whole and indie filmmakers specifically. This film was based on a short story by Clive Barker, one of the original masters of horror, and was part of his immensely popular Books of Blood. I’m a huge fan of his as well, and incidentally, this was one of my favorites from his works. Needless to say, between the branding from After Dark and the Barker connections, I was super excited to see this story committed to celluloid.

Dread is essentially the story of a man whose family was murdered by a madman with an ax, leading him to a lifelong fascination with the feeling of dread. He teams up with a pair of research videographers to study people’s worst fears, and document everything for a final school project. It becomes clear before too long that the man has some serious issues, and he lets it get in the way of their research in some pretty serious ways. In making his “patients” face their fears, he realizes that “to know the death of others intimately is a clue to death’s nature, and might prepare a man for his own death.” We realize that our antihero’s sense of dread comes from death itself, and that that’s what he fears the most.

The movie, as well as the story itself, manage to concisely display the biggest component of the horror genre as a whole. It’s not always a matter of what we’re afraid of so much as why. If we can answer this question, we can know exactly where to hit our audiences, and what tactics evoke that visceral, gut reaction that horror aficionados hold most dear. Fortunately, while the topics that conjure these feelings are different for everyone, the atmosphere in which they’re most effective often doesn’t change. This films plays well on those, and brings to life a truly interesting concept.

The film itself wasn’t a huge hit, and it’s not one that will fit nicely with every fan of the genre, but I thought it worked well. It managed to stay relatively true to the book while carrying some of the more impactful scenes well (the bleach/brillo pad bath scene in particular, as well as the newly discovered cure for vegetarianism). The best part was the actual project itself, which opened a window into the soul of fear in these characters. It would be an interesting real life study as well, but I don’t believe I’d take part after seeing this film: I’d prefer not to be chased down by chainsaw wielding clowns while also being chased by bees to test the theory.

The actors did well, and Shaun Evans’ Quaid was particularly faithful to the book. He was genuinely creepy, and very much did the character justice. I generally don’t enjoy movie adaptations of books, but this one was surprisingly effective. Anthony DiBlasi’s direction managed to make this an adequate adaptation of Barker’s idea, and it’s definitely one of my favorites of the 8 Films To Die For series that I’ve seen. It’s an interesting concept, one that I’d love to see explored further.