Movie review, 'FearDotCom'

CrimeCrime, Law and JusticeDeathEntertainmentMoviesStephen DorffStephen Rea

The horror film "FearDotCom" recalls an old joke: A man tells his doctor, "It hurts when I do this," and bends his elbow backward.

"Then don't do that," the doctor says.

"FearDotCom" uses the same gag but doesn't follow its natural logic.

Stephen Dorff plays Mike, a police detective brought in to investigate a series of mysterious deaths. The symptoms? Bleeding from the nose and eyes, followed by almost certain painful death 48 hours after logging onto the snuff site -- you guessed it -- www.fear.com.

Logically, what would be the next step? Why, log on to the site and see what happens!

It's amazing that the horror genre has taken this long to hook into the Internet as a hunting ground for terror. Past franchises such as "Friday the 13th" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" preyed on the underlying tensions in a Reagan-era morality that demonized teen sex and drug use. For the past decade, the dark side of the Internet -- sadist porn, hate groups galore, Ann Coulter columns -- has been ripe for some sort of horror take. ("The Net" dealt more with identity fraud, and it probably doesn't qualify as horror, depending on how you feel about Sandra Bullock.)

"FearDotCom" swoops in when the subject is overripe; it falls apart from one too many ideas and plot holes you could -- and do -- get lost in. For instance, when people die of their worst fear, why do they perish from something as pedestrian as a car wreck or a swarm of beetles?

Worse: Why not just take down the Web site if it's such a public hazard?

Technology addiction and its possible tainting of the human soul has been dealt with better in David Cronenberg's "eXistenZ" and even David Foster Wallace's literary opus "Infinite Jest." But "FearDotCom" becomes more preoccupied with themes of retribution and fetishized murder than with any philosophical explorations. Audiences may have to wait for the forthcoming (October) American remake of Japan's "The Ring" for a nearly identical idea taken to its psychological extreme.

Beauty Natasha McElone adds a romantic tension to the creepy atmosphere, which director William Malone ("House on Haunted Hill") rips right out David Fincher's "Seven," rain and all. Thespian Stephen Rea even offers his services as the requisite scalpel-wielding madman, but to little benefit.

As scary and minor-chord heavy as "FearDotCom" can be, there's no big payoff, no logical resolution. It's like waiting for a site to download, only to find that when it happens, anticipation was more than half of the empty thrill.

1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
"FearDotCom"

Directed by William Malone; screenplay by Josephine Coyle; photographed by Christian Sebaldt; edited by Alan Strachan; production design by Jerome Latour; produced by Moshe Diamant, Limor Diamant. A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:38. MPAA rating: R (violence, including grisly images of torture, nudity and language).
Mike -- Stephen Dorff
Terry -- Natascha McElhone
Alistair -- Stephen Rea
Polidori -- Udo Kier Denise -- Amelia Curtis

Robert K. Elder is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.

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