Dread (Anthony DiBlasi, 2009)
Anthony DiBlasi, who’s produced a number of Clive Barker adaptations, decides to try his hand at writing and directing one with Dread, based on one of my favorite Barker short stories (it’s the opening salvo in Books of Blood II). Given that it’s his first directorial effort, I was quite pleasantly surprised; it’s almost, but not quite, up there with The Midnight Meat Train as far as adaptations go.
Quaid (Cashback‘s Shaun Evans) is a psychology student at a small university who meets film major Stephen (Jackson Rathbone from the Twilight franchise) in an ethics class. Stephen is looking for something to do for his senior thesis, so Quaid proposes an idea that dovetails with his own interests: why not film a documentary based on an analysis of people’s deepest fears? Stephen goes along with the idea, and the two of them, along with Cheryl (Hamlet‘s Hanne Steen), a computer geek who collates the data and does the editing, start rounding up other students and interviewing them. (Note: watch close. One of them is a heavily-made-up Clive Barker.) They come up with a few really solid candidates, including Joshua (Splintered‘s Jonathan Readwin), but eventually, Quaid’s real purpose is revealed as his cohorts find themselves in front of the camera as well—Cheryl, Stephen, Stephen’s best friend Abby (Missing‘s Laura Donnelly). And Quaid, of course, is not immune to being scared himself…
The movie, not surprisingly, is at its best most of the time when it sticks closest to the source material. I went back and re-read the story after I was finished to see what DiBlasi changed, and in a number of cases, the changes are far less “what on earth were you thinking?” as much as they were “I’m not quite sure I understand why you did this in the way that you did”. Most notably (this isn’t a spoiler alert since it won’t even register on your radar if you haven’t read the story), Joshua and Stephen are, in the story, the same person, and for the life of me I can’t quite figure out what it was DiBlasi was trying to achieve by separating them—but it didn’t negatively affect the film in any way, which is causing me even more confusion.
On the other hand, one major deviation from the original source material is a win all around, and that is the character of Abby. (I’m about half-convinced she’s from another Barker story, but I can’t for the life of me remember which right now.) DiBlasi slips her into this story as if she’d been there from the beginning, and she does a great deal to highlight many of the story’s themes without ever seeming too intrusive about it. Fantastic stuff, that, and Donnelly’s performance is spot-on.
Which is all the more reason why the ending of the film, another major deviation from the story, doesn’t make one damn lick of sense. Obviously, I can’t go into what changed without major spoilers, but the film’s final shot, which is an indirect look at something I got annoyed with in another film I watched the same day I watched this (can’t tell you which, though…) with the exact same result, drive me bonkers. It’s pretty much the definition of “gratuitous”. And yeah, if you read the original story, you might well have imagined something like this happening… but there’s a lot of ambiguity there, while this interpretation (obviously) closes off all those other doors. It falls well short of the rest of the film, which, had it ended one sequence earlier, would have inspired all kinds of crazy speculation (it was pretty much a perfect conclusion to one of those story deviations I mentioned earlier).
In other words, turn it off about a minute and a half before the end credits roll and you’ll probably love it. But if you don’t, you’ll be rolling your eyes and groaning. *** ½
Red-band trailers rule.