The Internet's intimidating vastness, anonymity, artificiality, and tendency toward the basest forms of voyeurism and exhibitionism have made it an irresistible subject for horror, suspense, and science-fiction filmmakers. Still, nearly all Internet-themed thrillers fall short, largely because there seems to be no good way to make the process of using the Internet look anything other than geeky and passive. The latest in a long line of would-be cyber-thrillers, FearDotCom uses the Internet as window dressing for yet another gruesome Seven knockoff, complete with lingering shots of decomposed corpses and perpetually rain-slicked streets. The film's nightmarish urban dystopia is ironically filled with light fixtures, none of which seem remotely capable of illuminating anything. Either the city is going through a major energy shortage, or it's outlawed the use of all but the lowest-wattage light bulbs. Into this frustratingly secondhand darkness wades the once-promising Stephen Dorff, who, in keeping with the film's mix-and-match approach, combines the manly stubble and profession of Seven's Brad Pitt with the Jack Nicholson-inflected vocal stylings of Christian Slater. A tormented detective in a city where torment seems to be the norm, Dorff teams up with plucky health inspector Natascha McElhone to track down a serial killer who uses the Internet to lure victims and cyber-cast his crimes, apparently in hopes of becoming the Harry Knowles of Internet snuff films. FearDotCom periodically dabbles in the idea of the Internet as a malevolent creature with a soul of its own, but mostly borrows its ideas from offline sources like Seven, Peeping Tom, and Don't Look Now. Not surprisingly, its silliest aspects are the ones most related to the web. The "killer" site's animation, for example, is strangely evocative of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work; perhaps a sequel will feature characters checking out the site's sound-clips of "The Lumberjack Song" when they aren't being cyber-menaced and cyber-mutilated. FearDotCom was made with just enough craft to keep it from being the instantly dated camp howler its title promises, but it's quickly apparent that there's no thought or originality under its grim, familiar surface.
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