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First Thoughts on Clive Barker’s Dread

Shock catches an early screening!

One will need a cast-iron stomach to endure the final act of Dread (set visit preview), the latest Clive Barker adaptation to come down the pipe. If you know the original story, culled from Barker’s “Books of Blood” collection, you’ll know exactly what scene I’m talking about that will test the gag reflex. Those unfamiliar, well, I won’t want to spoil the fun – but I did want to chime in with some first thoughts on Anthony DiBlasi’s directorial debut.

I caught a screening of an early cut last week that featured rough special FX gags and a temp score. As with my previous “first thoughts” entry (on Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell), I’m not going to pose a full review as Dread is still being tweaked. What DiBlasi currently has in his hands is one of the finest Barker adaptations to date, a wicked, unflinching study of the human condition, relationships and fear.

At Dread‘s core is the dynamic between students Stephen Grace (Jackson Rathbone, faring better here than he did in Twilight) and Quaid (portrayed with measured, charming madness by Shaun Evans). With pal Cheryl (Hanne Steen), they embark on a fear study: A documentary in which they interview various subjects on the thing that scares them the most. Quaid, haunted by his own past, takes the experiment too far and jeopardizes the lives of those around him.

DiBlasi has turned a disturbing short story into an effective feature-length psychological thriller. No easy feat for a newcomer. Yet he digs deep into Barker’s prose, demonstrates a confident grasp of the characters and themes and fleshes out the narrative seamlessly. There are some palpable pacing issues in the first act but a bit of fat trimming can resolve this issue. One of the many things that works about the film is the organic rapport between Stephen and Quaid. How they meet. The moments, or women, they share. Their crumbling friendship when Quaid wants to push the experiment to unnatural levels. DiBlasi drops in a thoroughly engaging sense of nascent doom from the moment these two meet. He backs it up with a mature visual style (it was shot by The Descent‘s Sam McCurdy) and music selection from various artists that set an appropriate tone. And expect plenty of ghastly nightmarish imagery on display. Bodily harm is often inflicted with an axe (the film gets pretty wet) and there’s a strip club sequence that carries a surreal Shining-esque vibe.

Where past adaptations have proven to be tad uneven, Dread, in spirit and in execution, feels consistently like a Clive Barker tale. I don’t think it’s going to disappoint the author’s fans.

Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor