At a gorgeous lakeside house, various college-age couples facing the prospects of the real world seek to unwind with a last hurrah. They just don't know how "last" it will really be, until one of them is murdered in the middle of the night. A creepy videotape of the killing surfaces, along with a Jigsaw-like message that they're to play a little game: Basically, all but one of them has to be dead by 6 a.m.
The directorial debut of "Project Greenlight" producer Chris Moore, the film wastes no time in setting up this prettier "Saw" variation, and the characters don't dilly-dally in dispatching with one another, either, often in gruesome, gushing close-ups. Agnes Bruckner is the movie's logical Final Girl, and her fresh-scrubbed, all-American, girl-next-door quality lends credibility to the cast. She's a good actress; I don't know why she doesn't get more parts (and of higher visibility).
The rest of her co-stars aren't as appealing. Taryn Manning does her tough girl thing, which is her stock. The others simply fill in stereotypes: Daniel Franzese is the fat guy you want to go sooner than later; Theo Rossi is the cocky guy you want to punch; Ryanne Duzich is the slutty girl you want to ... well ... y'know.
Again, the flick is enjoyable without being innovative.
"Dread" aims for something more cerebral, and almost pulls it off. It marks the directorial debut of Anthony DiBlasi, who has worked on a couple of Barker adaptations before, including "The Midnight Meat Train" and "Book of Blood." All in all, "Dread" isn't as good as the first one, but a bit better than the second.
The plot concerns a trio of college students working on a thesis project involving fear. Stephen (Jackson Rathbone), Abby (Laura Donnelly) and Quaid (Shaun Evans) interview fellow students on camera about what scares them. Over the course of their studies, each opens up to the other, too, and Quaid eventually uses this information against him.
He's bonkers, see, having witnessed his mom and pop chopped into bits by an ax murderer when he was but a tot. The things he does to his supposed friends are just as evil, so needless to say, the film takes some dark, disturbing turns (not even including Abby's birthmark from hell). It may make you swear off steak and strippers ... at least temporarily.
The subject matter and setting are a little too grim for the film's own good. DiBlasi gets credit for shooting the material as high-minded, but a tad of levity " just a pinch, as in "Candyman" or "Hellraiser" " would allow it to truly get under the viewer's skin and stay there.
Both discs contain deleted scenes, a production featurette and a theatrical trailer, but horror hounds will wish full previews for the other six 2010 After Dark offerings were available for sampling. —Rod Lott