(A.k.a. DREAD)

Quaid (Shaun Evans, looking at times like a young Willem Dafoe) meets fellow college student Stephen (Jackson Rathbone) in an alley one night, and asks him whether his aspirations to be a director is simply because he thinks he's the next Scorsese. Definitely not, comes the reply. A friendship is formed.

Over a drink, Stephen reveals that his brother died in a car accident at the age of 15. This has left him terrified of dying, to the point where he's afraid of living even a little because of the possible consequences. Quaid responds with the type of pretentious philosophising that he will become known for throughout the film.

Later, Quaid invites Stephen round to his apartment to discuss a "project" he wants to work on, which he believes will help with the coursework for Stephen's thesis. Stephen gets there, interrupting Quaid midway through completion of a bad oil painting of a voluptuous blonde beauty. But Quaid's okay with this - he sends the girl packing and puts his proposition to Stephen: he wants to make a documentary where they explore the things that scare people the most. On camera.

Stephen agrees to take part, and the pair celebrate their union with drinks at the student bar and sex with random fillies afterwards.

The following day, Stephen pastes a flyer in the college advertising for candidates to take part in a "Fear Study", while also roping in best pal Cheryl (Hanne Steen) to help with vetting the volunteers. For his part, Quaid reorganises his apartment to accommodate the documentary filmmaking.

A few days of filming their idiot friends confessing their 'inner-most' fear of spiders, heights and so on, sends Quaid into distraction. It's not what he anticipated, and so - following an altercation between he and Stephen borne of pure frustration - Cheryl volunteers to go in front of the camera with something more.

She tells of how she was abused by her father. "That's it!" exclaims Quaid, "some honest-to-God fuckin' trauma!".

Later that evening, Stephen kips over at Quaid's place and is awoken in the dead of night by his enigmatic new friend's screams. Quaid eventually opens up to Stephen, revealing how he witnessed his parents being slain in the family home by an intruder when he was just 6 years old. Ample reason, perhaps, to be a tad psychologically fucked up and obsessed with drawing people's most negative memories to the fore...

As the filmed interviews with student volunteers continue, Stephen manages to rope in shy but sexy pal Abby (Laura Donnelly), who reveals her anxieties about the huge birthmark that covers half of her body.

Things start to turn awry when Stephen gets closer to Cheryl, and Quaid gets into a sexual relationship with Abby. And then, when one female interviewee is exposed as lying about her fears, Quaid becomes openly obsessed with the notion that the four of them should be forced to confront their fears head-on ...

It's unfair to elaborate from there onwards as that would constitute major spoilers. DREAD is a good, stylish and surprisingly emotive thriller that takes a dive into gruesome horror territory for its final act. It works better for its slow build-up and focus on character development.

Prior to going into this, I was a little concerned by the handheld video camera gimmick and - more pertinently - by the fact the film is being sold as a vehicle for Jackson "the TWILIGHT films" Rathbone. Have no fear though, this is different to the tiresome glut of "what the camcorder saw" horror films from the last decade, and the cast - even Rathbone - are uniformly excellent.

Writer-director DiBlasi has concentrated on the evolution of his characters and in doing so has crafted an affecting, human drama that will enthral those who allow themselves to take in the drama without distraction. Those looking for quicker thrills will be better off looking for the likes of HOSTEL or CABIN FEVER.

In a sense, the grungy feel and the dystopian world these students dwell in recalled the similarly impressive DEADGIRL. It's a little more sombre overall perhaps, in the same vein as Chris Sivertson's THE LOST, but still has that impressively authentic 'youth' ethos about it.

DiBlasi clearly has a bit of thing for the works of Clive Barker. Prior to helming DREAD - his feature-length directorial debut - he acted as executive producer on the celluloid adaptations of the author's THE PLAGUE, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN , BOOK OF BLOOD and even the forthcoming TORTURED SOULS: ANIMAE DAMNATAE (which Barker himself is presently slated to direct).

For his own interpretation of Barker's literary nightmares, DiBlasi has chosen a story from 1984. Perhaps prophetic for its time, the concept of baring yourself on video camera for all to see has become common-place in this YouTube age. But DiBlasi keeps it fresh by eliciting tragedy from his protagonists.

My only qualm is that the film is being sold as a horror film with the title DREAD. And yet, there's very little terror on offer. Gore and tension, yes, but not fear exactly. Aside from that, it's a well-acted, well-shot and nicely scored project with some impressive suspense to note of.

The film is presented here in a good, strong and reasonably sharp anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer. Colours are naturally restrained, while contrast fares well and blacks remain strong throughout. It's not the most visually exciting film, thus making it difficult to gush sincerely over the video quality of the film on the disc (especially considering the various medias used for stylistic purposes), but there's nothing to boo-hoo over in this decent transfer from Lions Gate.

English audio is presented in a serviceable 2.0 stereo mix that causes no problems. Optional English subtitles are easy to read, and contain pointers in brackets for the hard-of-hearing. An animated main menu page paints the film as a crossing of HOSTEL and AQUARIUM, which thankfully is misleading. From there, a static scene-selection menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters.

There are no extras on the disc whatsoever - not even a trailer.

DREAD is perhaps not traumatic enough to qualify as a must-see horror film, but is a very efficient thriller nonetheless. It stands as one of the better Barker screen adaptations, and in that sense is definitely worth a look.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Lions Gate Home Entertainment
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review