‘Dread’ – A Chilling Psychological Thriller That Plumbs the Depths of Fear

What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you? Is it the abandonment of your brother leaving you when he is killed in a car accident when you are only a teenager? Is it your father coming into the privacy of your bedroom smelling of work to do things to you that your mother ignores? How about the beauty that you have on the outside not matching the beauty you have on the inside? Or maybe it’s watching your parents being hacked to death and reliving it over and over again in your dreams. What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you? That is the premise and the reason behind Clive Barkers’ Dread.

Based on Clive Barker’s short story, the 2009 horror film ‘Dread’ delves deep into the nature of fear, following a disturbed film student who takes a class project documenting others’ phobias to twisted extremes. Psychologically unsettling and grisly, this underseen gem mines primal terrors hidden within us all.

When timid Stephen partners with the manipulative, nihilistic Quaid on a thesis exploring fear, Quaid pushes them to go beyond interviews to staging traumatic incidents targeting participants’ vulnerabilities. His cruelty exposes raw nerves and inner darkness – especially within himself.

Director Anthony DiBlasi maintains an atmosphere thick with dread as Quaid’s social experiments escalate from the mentally taxing to the physically depraved. Stark lighting and invasive camerawork place us in the perspective of his unwilling subjects. Flashbacks to their formative traumas, many involving abuse, tap into uncomfortable realities.

But the true monster is human cruelty and weakness, from buried trauma to moral cowardice enabling Quaid’s schemes. As Stephen falls under Quaid’s sway, sensitivity gives way to complicity, showing our malleability in the face of charismatic evil.

As of this review there have only been three films based on works by Clive Barker that have had any amount of credibility. The first of course being Hellraiser. The second and third films are Candyman and The Midnight Meat Train. Now, you can add Dread to that list. Dread is one of the films featured in the 4th annual After Dark Horrorfest series. It is written and directed by Anthony DiBiasi from the short story by Clive Barker. Often, the ADHF can be hit or miss with its choice of films to include each year. I can easily say that this one is a hit.

The directing is top-notch, as is the writing. There are scenes in the film that elicit a response from the audience and rightfully so. I can’t imagine any of them being pleasant responses.

Abby (Laura Donnelly) is the most likable and sympathetic character and Donnelly does a fantastic job in her portrayal of her. Jackson Rathbone is quite talented as well and does a fine job as Stephen. Shaun Evans and Hanne Steen round out a twisted and talented cast. Dread is one of the few films that I have seen in the last ten or so years that elicited a response from me. I felt moments of fear, of pity and of disgust. For a film that involves people and how they deal with their fears, I’d say that this was exactly the response it was looking for. The only complaint, and it is a small one, is that it relies too much on gore to carry the story through to conclusion.

While extreme gore punctuates the finale, it’s the film’s gnawing psychological tension that disturbs most. ‘Dread’ pulls back our skin to probe the raw nerves and bleeding wounds within us all, proving real horror strikes at the soul. Unflinching in plumbing the recesses of fear, it finds resonant truth in Clive Barker’s uncompromising vision.