Dear God, where to begin with this one. For starters, I find it fascinating that in looking up either "fear.com" or "feardotcom.com" (as we see it's actually typed out in the film), you get nothing. "fear.com" gives you the "this page can't be reached" screen with the sad piece of paper icon, and "feardotcom.com"... well, I dunno for sure, but warnings of it potentially being a malicious site pop up and no amount of curiosity is gonna make me risk whatever that leads to, be it a virus or just things I really don't wanna see.
I remember when this came out and never having an interest in it. This was right around when I was really into 80s classic horror, and the modern horror genre wasn't really doing it for me. 'Feardotcom' provides a solid reason as to why I avoided a lot of it, and more than half of that has to do with the fact that this is almost the same story as 'The Ring', which came out just a couple of months after this, but was infinitely better. Even then I think it's a little overrated, but we'll get into that on a review for that sometime in the future.
This is also just shortly before "torture porn" (which is definitely not my path when it comes to horror) became popularized with movies like 'Hostel' and 'Saw' - although I still contend 'Saw' didn't actually become famous for its torture porn aspect until about 'Saw III'. Until then, things are solid. But we're not here to talk about that, even if it is far more interesting than whatever the hell this was. 'Feardotcom' was also released at a time when the internet wasn't at all what it is today. Internet Explorer was the big browser name, you chatted with MSN Messenger, Facebook, Instagram and even YouTube didn't exist at all yet, the list goes on. So more than anything, the film is just incredibly dated. It portrays what we might call "the dark web" these days, but with consequences for looking at it.
Things all start with a mysterious, and, if I'm honest, rather funny death on a subway, where a guy kind of throws himself in front of a train. In reality, not funny, but the execution of this scene was such a "WTF" moment. Ultimately, it is somewhat explained, but I digress. This calls NYPD detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) to the scene where he discovers the victim bleeding from his eyes with a look of terror on his face. Soon, several more victims start popping up with the same weird symptoms, which frankly fascinates Dept. of Health researcher, and deadpan character extraordinaire, Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone).
Eventually, the idea of some kind of virus is ruled out, and Mike and Terry put their heads together to try to solve the mystery behind these deaths. Eventually, it's discovered that the one thing all of these victims have in common is visiting an underground website about two days before their demise. Sound familiar? Yeah, it's 'The Ring'. But why do we know about 'The Ring' so well as opposed to this when this was released beforehand? I guess the simple answer would be the Japanese horror cult phenomenon 'Ringu', which 'The Ring' Americanized itself after whereas this just kind of took the idea and made it something different.
I'd say at this point in the game, to go back and watch this, it's interesting to see various familiarities with titles other than 'The Ring' as well, and I can't even properly fault the movie for these, as they were released afterward. For example, 'Saw' has the same idea of the would-be victim "playing a game" before their inevitable death, and a lot of this reminded me of that, along with the whole torture porn aspect of things. And again, torture porn isn't something I'm into when it comes to horror. I find it cheap for the most part, and can only really endure it as long as the victim is able to get some good revenge in the end.
As far as that aspect goes with this, I must admit that it wasn't anything I felt I had to turn away from, really, as it doesn't show much of anything. But that's also the problem with it. This movie is full of bad cuts, and confusing camera angles that make the viewer sort of have to guess what they're even looking at. We don't really see much of anything except quick glimpses, so if you ARE a fan some something like 'Hostel' for those reasons (I understand and respect that everyone has their tastes), this isn't even something I can recommend on that level. It tries to be more psychological, I suppose, but it does a sloppy job of it.
But what killed me about this movie more than anything was Natascha McElhone's acting. Good lord was she awful in this. And I do not directly blame her for that, as it could very well be the direction. The only thing I really knew her for before this was 'The Truman Show', and she's quite charming in that. So something's definitely off here. The worst of it involves a scene nearing the end when she's struggling with the big baddie of the movie and, quite honestly, just looks bored, adding zero tension to the scene. It was as though it was their hundredth take and she had just had enough of acting altogether. But again, could be the direction. William Malone's track record isn't exactly peak, but hit-or-miss at best.
I could go on about various clichés throughout the movie as well, such as the glitchy camera work accompanies by weird nails-on-chalkboard sounds. Or the fact that the whole time, Mike and Terry are looking out for who a little girl with a bouncy ball is. Granted, there's something eerie about it in general, but it's such a "go-to", namely the concept of the creepy little girl who potentially needs redemption - again, 'The Ring'. So, in the end, I think I'll just conclude as simply as possible - 'The Ring' is the movie you want to see. Not this glitchy mess. Again, it's not entirely my cup of tea, but I do respect it and how it was executed. It's not without some solid creepiness, and I have to appreciate people's love of it. But this? Who even remembers it?