Beyond the Slimy Wall: fear dot com
By Stephanie Star Smith
July 15, 2004
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
fear dot com
Given the ubiquity of the Internet, it's kind of surprising no one made a horror film about it until this 2002 release. Then again, considering what the critics thought of this film, maybe they were right to wait so long, and it'll probably be even longer before Hollywood attempts to blend the vast possibilities of the Web with the horror genre.
Which is a shame, both because there is ample opportunity to create horrific fare using the Internet as a vehicle or backdrop, and because fear dot com really isn't as bad as the critics made out. OK, sure; the whole idea of a Web site that kills visitors within 48 hours is quite the stretch, but since when are horror movies solidly rooted in reality? Likewise, the premise that a person's life force can be contained within Web images to the extent that the simulacrum thinks, feels and reacts as a living entity falls to the unbelievable end of the scale, but suspension of disbelief is part and parcel of any fictional film, and certainly the idea that one's soul can be captured in a photo image is not a superstition our own culture is that far away from having held. In fact, it's still a firm belief in some parts of the world.
So what exactly was it that drew near-universal calumny from the critics and sufficient audience apathy that the film didn't even make back one-third its budget during its theatrical run? Basically, the critics thought it should be a different film. Exactly what that film was varies from critic to critic; in fact, the only thing these near-unanimous pans have in common are various intended-to-be-clever plays off Netspeak. Even with a genre that little depends on critical praise or vituperation, such overwhelming hatred of a film has a tendency to keep the audience away.
But I really, really liked it. Maybe that's due to lowered expectations, or maybe it's because I didn't have to sally forth to my local googolplex and pay $8.50 just to get in, then drop another six bucks on overpriced popcorn and Diet Coke in order to take a gander at fear dot com, but I thought it was a nifty little spook movie. Even knowing going in that somehow the strange goings-on and bizarre deaths that occur pretty much from the opening scene are related to the Web site, it was still a lot of fun finding out exactly how and why and who. Another plus is the movie got into the action right away. I didn't sit there for half-an-hour or more waiting for something, anything to happen. And the acting was definitely first-rate, although Stephen Rea, who I usually adore, affected an odd accent that could neither be placed nor seemed necessary.
Bottom line, fear dot com delivers the chills and the suspense, and even knowing the premise up front, the ending can't be sussed in the first five minutes. Hell, you can't get a handle on the full story until just before the film does, which is always nice.
So ignore the naysayers and catch this next time it's on the telly. Definitely worth the investment of not-quite-an-hour-and-three-quarters of your time.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.