Director – William Malone, Screenplay – Josephine Coyle, Story – Moshe Diamant, Producers – Limor & Moshe Diamant, Photography – Christian Sebaldt, Music – Nicholas Pike, Visual Effects – Das Werk (Supervisor – Frank Wegerhoff), Green Media Group & Hypnosis (Supervisor – Diane Kingston), Computer Graphics – Department P., Special Effects Supervisor – Harry Weissenhaan, Makeup Effects – K.N.B. EFX Group Inc (Supervisors – Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman & Greg Nicotero), Production Design – Jerome Latour. Production Company – ApolloMedia/Fear.com Productions/Carousel Film Company/Film Fund Luxembourg.
Natascha McElhone (Terry Houston), Stephen Dorff (Detective Mike Reilly), Stephen Rea (Alistair ‘The Doctor’ Pratt), Jeffrey Combs (Detective Stykes), Amelia Curtis (Denise Stahl), Michael Sarrazin (Frank Bryant), Nigel Terry (Turnbull), Jana Guttgemanns (Jeannie Richardson), Siobahn Flynn (Thana Brinkman), Gesine Cukrowski (Older Jeannie), Udo Kier (Polidori)
New York City detective Mike Reilly and city health inspector Terry Houston team up to deal with a series of mysterious deaths where victims, which include Terry’s boss, start bleeding from the eyes and then die within 48 hours. The common factor in each case is found to be the snuff torture website feardotcom.com, which taunts victims into playing a game before somehow causing their greatest fears to become manifest. All the victims report seeing a mysterious little girl with a ball. Mike realises that behind the killings is a longtime nemesis of his known as The Doctor who broadcasts his torture of victims to an internet audience. After accessing the site, Terry uses the 48 hours left to her to track down the mysterious little girl, realising that the girl is calling to her to avenge her murder.
FeardotCom was the second big-budget film from director William Malone. Malone first appeared with a couple of low-budget Alien (1979) copies, Scared to Death (1980) and Titan Find/Creature (1984) and then slaved away directing genre tv material for years before obtaining a chance at the big time with House on Haunted Hill (1999). Upon that occasion, Malone delivered a modestly effective film that left one wanting to see what else he was capable of doing. Mindedly, just subsequent to Haunted Hill, Malone also delivered the scripts for Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) and Supernova (2000), which suggested that such promise might not be such a worthwhile thing after all. Sadly, with FeardotCom, his first directorial outing subsequent to Haunted Hill, William Malone disappointed heavily.
FeardotCom is an uncredited ripoff of the Japanese hit Ring (1998). Notedly, FeardotCom came out the same year as the official American remake of Ring, The Ring (2002). William Malone substitutes an internet site for Ring‘s haunted video but otherwise the two films are remarkably similar – both feature a ghost girl trapped in tv broadcasts/cyberspace; in both films, after someone views the videotape/internet site, they have a limited time (seven days in Ring, 48 hours here) before they are killed under mysterious circumstances; and in both films there is a ghost of a young girl who is calling to the heroine to solve her murder.
Crucial among FeardotCom‘s failings is that it suffers from a muddled concept where it is not at all clear what is happening. There is the mysterious ghost girl on the internet; a snuff website that appears to kill everybody after they view it; cuts away every so often to Stephen Rea (in a nicely cold and chilling performance) torturing and killing women; and some extremely silly novelty deaths – one victim drops a cigarette in their car and sets everything on fire, cockroaches emerges from another victim’s computer screen and overrun their apartment.
The film uneasily vies between mundane and supernatural explanations as to what is happening. Later revelations show that the film has misleadingly given us the impression the feardotcom.com website is the place where Stephen Rea is torturing his victims, whereas it is in fact the place where the ghost girl resides, although it is not at all clear why, when she wants her murder avenged, that the girl is lurking at a snuff internet site and then emerging to kill victims that randomly log on, or even what she is doing on the internet in the first place. In lieu of explanation, we are given a downrightly nonsensical speech from Michael Sarrazin about the internet having its own energy.
Moreover, William Malone’s direction is false and contrived. His attempts to generate atmosphere only impress upon you how forced an effort he is making – all dark lit, subterranean buildings, reflections of eerily rippling water, swinging lights, backlit steam, artfully strewn apartments. Like Se7en (1995), FeardotCom also gives the impression that New York City has a serious shortage of lightbulbs any stronger than twenty watts. Malone occasionally throws in some of the subliminal montages that he used in House on Haunted Hill, which are effective – there is a neat shot where Natascha McElhone is looking at a photo of the girl with a ball that suddenly starts moving as she watches.
Stephen Dorff seems far too young for the grizzled detective part he is cast in. Natascha McElhone on the other hand gives a warm performance. Indeed, the film sidelines the top-billed Stephen Dorff for the most part and allows McElhone to become the real heroine.
William Malone next went onto direct the horror film Parasomnia (2008) about a woman with a sleeping sickness who is pursued by a dream-invading serial killer.