After Dark Horror Fest 4: Dread

If you wanted to put a label on what it is I dislike about “Usher” movies like Skjult, you could use “Dread” pretty accurately. Dread, of course, is not wanting to confront something, generally out of fear. For me, dread quickly turns to boredom and sleepiness. (Just get it out of the way already!)

Fortunately, Dread, the movie, is nothing like that. Clive Barker is attached (author of the original story and producer) which says to me that a) there’s gonna be some kinky sex, and; b) the ending’s gonna be dark.
Dread is the story of young Stephen (Jackson Rathbone of the Twilight series) who falls under the sway of the moody, angry Quaid (Shaun Evans, evoking a kind of young Dennis Leary) and agrees to elicit his friend Abby’s help in collecting people’s stories of—you guessed it—dread.
Rounding out the core cast is Hanne Steen as Cheryl, a girl who works in the used bookstore with Stephen, and who has a birthmark that covers half her face and body.
I may have Abby and Cheryl mixed up, in terms of their roles. I actually wondered for a second if they were the same actress, and if this were some sort of surreal turn, but it was just a matter of having cast two dark-haired, doe-eyed 5’4"/5’5" actresses.
Most of the initial stories are trivial and Quaid gets more and more dissatisfied with their “progress”, until Abby shares a personal story of abuse. We’ve already learned that Stephen lost an older brother to a car accident, but Quaid trumps them all: He saw his mother and father murdered with an axe.
One of the interviewees, a young man who experienced years of deafness after a trauma, pinpoints the dread: After surviving suffering, you have this dread that you will suffer it again. As bad as the others have it, when your dread is focused on an axe murderer coming back to get you, that trumps most other fears.
This movie really underscored a probably unconscious theme in this year’s selections: Man’s inhumanity to Man. There’s not a monster movie in the lot.
Anyway, the first half of the movie builds up the tension, as Stephen and Abby hook up and Quaid ends up hooking up with Cheryl, in what at least initially seems almost like an act of kindness.
I actually had a little problem with this storyline: Hanne Steene (I think it’s her) is really, really cute. A bit bubbly. The birthmark actually looks, well, sexy. Kind of like a superhero mask. (The movie needed a bit more of showing her shyness.) Also, while Stephen is interested in Abby, that seems to start at the beginning of the movie, and doesn’t explain why he’s not all over Cheryl, who’s interested. (The implication is almost that it’s her birthmark, which just strikes me as dumb.)
That aside, the disintegration of the characters, particularly Quaid, who becomes obsessed with taking things to “the next level” is fascinating—and (typically of Barker) increasingly sadistic.
Philosophically, the story’s actually a little weak and limited in its understanding of terror. Quaid’s theory is that, in a tragedy, the terror comes from thinking “that could happen to me”. I don’t really buy that.
That aside, this is a low-key psychological horror film that pays off in a fairly big way, though a way that is really, really creepy and gross.
Another theme of the festival: the director Anthony DiBlasi is a first-timer, and shows a lot of promise. Overall, we both liked this one, and were especially pleased that they didn’t screw it up.

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