New York City detective Mike Reilly (Stephen Dorff) teams up with Department of Health researcher Terry Huston (Natascha McElhone) to investigate five bizarre deaths. Before long they discover that all the victims died exactly 48 hours after visiting the Web site feardotcom.com. The site itself looks amateurish with rapid-fire images of a strange doorway screaming faces torture tools and indiscernible grainy objects. Users log on to watch a twisted doctor perform autopsies on people--while they're still alive torturing his victims until they beg to be killed. The voyeurs must then interact with a mysterious woman who asks things like "Do you want to hurt me?" She challenges users to find her within two days--or die. Those who don't find her end up suffering whatever gruesome fate they fear most and--this is the best bit--it's brought on by some sort of evil force generated through the computer. Of course curiosity gets the better of them and Mike and Terry log on to the site only to find themselves embroiled in a supernatural violent fight for their lives. If this explanation made sense that's more than we can say for the plot of feardotcom.
Dorff is well cast as Mike Reilly a brash young city police detective whose curious nature gets him into trouble. But the character is too simplistic and underdeveloped to give Dorff much to do. Although we get a little more insight into McElhone's character Terry (we know she has a cat name Benny for example) there isn't much to like or dislike about her. Dorff and McElhone's characters strike up a sort of friendship as the film progresses but there isn't much chemistry between the actors. A couple of the creepier roles in the film are much more entertaining to watch especially Stephen Rea and Michael Sarrazin. Rea plays Alistair Pratt the twisted doctor whose torture victims provide feardotcom.com's "entertainment " while Sarrazin plays Frank Sykes a drunk and washed-up author. It's a shame these two didn't have more screen time.
Director William Malone explains in the production notes for the film that feardotcom offers both a scientific and spiritual explanation for what happens in the film and that it is ultimately up to moviegoers to decide which school of thought they subscribe to. But the film's storyline is so convoluted and contradictory that it's difficult to figure out what question the film is asking let alone find the answer. Even if nothing about the story--or the philosophical questions it purports to ask--makes sense the intense look of the film is enough to keep you watching. Malone bathes the film in murky blue tones and sunlight never even trickles in. Offices are dimly lit and apartments are always dank and dilapidated. It rains day and night. The weird flashes of images presented in this setting are graphic and disturbing making feardotcom a film for the strong of heart--and stomach.
Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) loses his wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) in a bus accident in Venezuela. Emily who was a pediatric oncologist had been sent there on a medical mercy mission and was trying to leave when the accident occurred. Six months later Joe is having a difficult time coming to grips especially because her body was never recovered. He immerses himself in his work as the head of emergency services but his friends are all very concerned. Concerned that maybe he's going crazy. See Joe who usually doesn't believe in the afterlife thinks Emily may be trying to communicate with him. First he gets weird messages from some of Emily's cancer patients who claim they have talked to Emily and that she wants Joe to go "inside the rainbow." Then at home he feels a presence in the house and thinks his wife may be working some voodoo through many dragonfly references a personal totem to Emily because of a birthmark on her shoulder in the shape of the insect. It's supposed to be spooky right about now but it's more laughable than anything else. The journey Joe finally embarks on leads him back to Venezuela where he desperately searches for a piece of Emily's soul. Can we say closure anyone?
Where has the Kevin Costner we all remember from the Dances with Wolves days gone to? Since his Academy Award-winning opus Costner has managed to make as many bad films as he possibly could. Maybe being in a huge-budget film like Waterworld and having it tank miserably (otherwise known as the Heaven's Gate curse) has affected his judgment. In any event Costner does his best to keep afloat in this movie playing the rational Joe a man who is a "mind without a heart." But ultimately he spends most of his time losing his mind over all the strange "happenings" around him rather than playing the part of a grieving husband. Just one word of advice: Get a new agent Kevin. It's also not quite clear why some really great actors such as Kathy Bates and Linda Hunt decided to take small meaningless parts in the film. Everyone in the film is a cliché down to the children on the cancer ward who are wise beyond their years and the disapproving hospital administrator played by Joe Morton who wants Dr. Joe to take a break. There was a colossal waste of talent in this movie.
In an attempt to capitalize on the whole spooky ghost genre done so well in films such as The Sixth Sense and What Lies Beneath Dragonfly just falls flat as a pancake. Director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective; Patch Adams) just doesn't have the same skills of a M. Night Shyamalan to pull something like this off. Admittedly there are moments when you jump as "the big spooky thing" happens even though you can see it coming a mile away but the film seems superficial rather than cutting deep in Joe's psyche--it's unimaginative in all its elements. The "clues" that finally get Joe on the road to Venezuela--the dragonfly paperweight flying off the table cancer kids eerily repeating the same thing over and over again--are forced and not in any way poignant. Only in the conclusion when Joe realizes why he's been sent on this journey does the story take a nice twist. Some may call it sappy but it worked on some level. Still we are talking about only 10 minutes of the film.