Friday, December 4, 2009

Deadline (2009)

A good haunted house movie is an extremely rare find. Perhaps the most well-done and well-known haunted house movie among hardcore horror fans is Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting. This is a film that still manages to creep under my skin as the ominous Hill House seemingly becomes a character itself and terrorizes the characters with strange noises and odd occurrences.

I am always excited to watch haunted house/ghost movies because they are one of my favorite sub-genres of horror, even though I usually end up disappointed that the film failed to scare me. So, I settled in to watch the new release Deadline with excitement yet trepidation…hoping it would utilize its atmosphere to the max but ready to be disappointed.

Was Deadline a rare haunted house movie that actually entertained or was it another flop? Read on to find out…

After an unexplained traumatic event, Alice (Brittany Murphy) retreats to an old Victorian house in the middle of nowhere to finish her screenplay under an encroaching deadline. Though isolation is what Alice was initially seeking, she soon feels as if she isn’t alone in the house. Strange noises, wet footprints and an ominous atmosphere start to make her feel paranoid. In the attic she finds videotapes of the house’s previous occupants, a newlywed couple (Marc Blucas and Thora Birch), and she soon finds that their damaged relationship mirrors her own tragic past. Are their ghosts haunting her or is it merely her own damaged psyche playing tricks on her?

From the synopsis you can tell this isn’t a terribly original movie, and yet the first few scenes pulled me into the story. The mystery surrounding Alice’s past and the beautifully gloomy Victorian house held my attention for the first 20 minutes or so, but from there the film treads familiar “haunted house” territory. There’s the obligatory spooky sounds (dripping water, strange creaking, etc.) a bathtub that seemingly fills itself in the middle of the night, lights that turn on and off, things that fall over and so on. While most of us would be calling the closest cab to get us out of there, Alice seems more intrigued than frightened. Even after discovering watery footprints leading up to the attic, she still takes the time to go through the previous occupants belongings, unbelievably not worried that an intruder might be in the house! There are several far-fetched instances like this throughout the film, where suspension of disbelief is pushed a bit too far.

The film is also peppered with several plot holes or unresolved plot points. We eventually find out that Alice was in an abusive relationship and she is scared her significant other has or will track her down. And yet, I don’t feel this part of the story was exploited enough for tension and scares. It kinda drops away, forgotten, until the last part of the film and even then it’s not utilized to its potential. Also, Alice’s closest friend Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard) gets calls regularly from a freaked out Alice, but never pays her a visit to make sure she is ok?  As for plot holes, the couple that lived there previously to Alice was reported missing, but the police never found the tapes that Alice discovered that would have explained their disappearance? And why didn’t Alice watch the “final” tape to start with? If she had, she would have been out there lickity split (but we wouldn’t have had a film, which actually might have been a good thing!).

The familiarity of the story in addition to the niggling plot problems really dragged this film down for me. It started fairly strongly, but soon became repetitive and even boring. There was little suspense or tension, and I really feel that more should have been done to make it scary. A lot of important plot points (like Alice’s abusive ex) were just left on the backburner, when they could have been used to really crank up the tension. Plus, the big finale was a real let-down and you can pretty much see it coming (and Alice should have seen it coming, too).

One of the film’s only good points was the evocative score, which really added to the overall gloomy atmosphere of the location. Also, the cinematography by Ross Richardson was stunning, capturing the dark shadows of the old house and making it a character onto itself. I also appreciated that there weren’t many cheap jump scares and director/writer Sean McConville relied on atmosphere over shocks. I just wished he had pushed it a little further and capitalized more on Alice’s turbulent past and fragile mental state.

Horror fans will most likely not enjoy Deadline. It is too by-the-numbers to keep the interest of well-watched horror fans. However, it may appeal to those with little experience in the horror genre and more mainstream audiences.

Order it on Amazon!

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