I love a good psychological horror movie and found one to watch last week that was better than I expected – Dread, released in 2009, based on horror writer Clive Barker’s short story of the same name. “I want your soul to open up for me,” says antagonist Quaid to the camera at one point in the film, and that’s just what he gets people to do in this film – whether they want to or not.
Directed by Anthony DiBlasi, the film starts more innocently though with intense, mysterious Quaid (Shaun Evans), and fellow college students Stephen Grace (Jackson Rathbone) and Cheryl Fromm (Hanne Steen) teaming up for a film thesis on what people fear the most. Inspired by Alfred Kinsey, the scientist famous for his sex studies, Quaid envisions a study on people’s worst memories and the things that scare them the most, all captured in filmed interviews. Stephen and Cheryl are really just interested in getting a good grade, but deeply disturbed Quaid wants something more, mainly a remedy to madness.
The film interviews start out on the lighter side, with memories concerning events such as bodily infections and childbirth, the details being gross, but not particularly scary. At first I wondered if it was going to get any darker, and it does. Soon the more traumatic memories start to surface, mostly among the people behind the camera rather in front of it. Cheryl is most scared of meat, since the smell reminds her of her butcher father who molested her as a child. There’s also Abby (Laura Donnelly,) one of Stephen’s coworkers, noticeable for the distinctive black birthmark that covers half of her body. Infatuated with Stephen, she reveals to him on camera that her fear is that no one will ever see her as more than her birthmark. Quaid’s greatest fear is that the axe murderer who killed his parents will one day return for him, but no film interview is necessary for viewers to realize this, due to his bloody hallucinations, seen throughout the movie, all involving people being mutilated with axes.
Despite Quaid’s cannonball temper, which makes for some tense moments, the film thesis is successfully finished and turned in, and both Stephen and Cheryl attempt to carry on their lives without any further interactions with him.
And that would be the end of it, except for Quaid insisting that the study isn’t done. After all, as he resolutely states to Stephen at the beginning of the film, you have to find the beast or it will find you – and no beasts have been found yet. That’s the whole purpose of the study, and before Dread is over, some beasts will have been found.
Quaid’s graphic hallucinations of people being slashed with axes are gory enough, but finding the beast is where this film gets most particularly disturbing. The most notable scenes of horror are arguably of Cheryl, after he locks her in his creepy basement with a piece of what she fears the most – a slab of beef. Viewers will find out just how desperate she has to be in order to eat it, and I have to commend DiBlasi for some truly disgusting shots of rotting meat, maggots and all.
Dread is a low-budget film and it looks low-budget. Nevertheless, the lack of money doesn’t detract from the story. I really enjoyed this entire film but what I liked most was Shaun Evans and his laser-sharp portrayal of a truly tortured soul that one can’t help but feel somewhat sorry for, despite the grotesque things he does to people, especially after acting as though he is their best friend.
I don’t know anything about Evans as an actor, having never seen him in anything else, but I don’t know if this film would have stood out to me as much with a different actor in the role. Besides Evans though, all the actors give very solid performances.
My one complaint about Dread would perhaps be the less-than-satisfying ending. While Quaid manages to heartlessly drive several people in this film to either death or insanity before it’s all over, don’t expect him to get what he deserves or even the help he so desperately needs. Still, the rest of the film makes it more than easy to overlook the last minute.
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