[Fantasia Festival 2019 Review] DreadOut Lacks Scares

From Fantasia Festival 2019:

In 2014, an Indonesian game company named Digital Happiness released a survival horror game called DreadOut that was heavily inspired by a number of video games before. The protagonist named Linda could use her smart phone or digital camera to take pictures of (and hurt) Indonesian ghosts and monsters in a similar fashion to the Fatal Frame series. Meanwhile, the characters move in and out of different worlds in a way that reminded me of the Silent Hill video games. It gained mainstream attention when a number of high profile YouTubers started streaming it. So it was only a matter of time that they’d make a movie adaptation. Does DreadOut beat the video game adaptation curse?

No. No, it does not.

After a brief cold open centered in an apartment room where a demonic possession is taking place that’s rudely interrupted by police bursting through the door, we are introduced to Linda (Caitlin Halderman), who jerks awake in her classroom. While it’s not addressed right away, the implication is that she was one of the bystanders in that apartment room when she was a kid. At her job, she flirts with Erik (Jefri Nichol), a popular, good-looking kid who ends up trying to enlist her aid. You see, his group of friends, including Jess (Marsha Aruan), Dian (Susan Sameh), Alex (Ciccio Manassero) and Beni (Irsyadillah) want to increase their social media status and have decided to livestream themselves entering the apartment building from the cold open.

Dreadout 1.JPG

Since the demonic situation from 2008, the apartment has become mostly vacant, with a lone security guard prowling the building. But Linda knows him and the group wants her to join them so that they can sweet talk themselves into the building, where others have failed. Long story short, they get into the building, go through the ancient police tape and find themselves back in the room where it all began in 2008. Under a loose floorboard, they discover a series of scrolls and Linda is the only one who can see writing on them. She accidentally reads a ritual and a symbol on the floor turns into a swirling pool that they fall into.

When the group pulls themselves out of the pool, they realize that Jess and Linda are missing. Linda, meanwhile, pulls herself out of the pool to find herself in a wooded area, alone and scared. What follows is the group trying to find each other, seal the portal and escape the mysterious place.

Luckily for her, she's discovered she has a special power to use the flash on her camera to fight the ghosts and monsters. Unfortunately, she always seems reticent to actually use it when people are in danger. And then when she does use it, she has the fastest fingers in the land, machine gunning the shit out of the flash.

DreadOut is filled with ghostly monsters and odd things. One particular creature is a zombie-looking thing dressed in a death’s shroud and wielding a sickle. Giant locusts launch themselves at a window in the apartment building, splattering bright green goo everywhere. And certain characters get possessed and look like an Indonesian version of the Kandarian demons in The Evil Dead, complete with dead white eyes, floating bodies and twisty, herky-jerky movements.

Overall, the creature designs are pretty cool, if a little over-exaggerated and cartoony (partly due to the CG used with some). And it’s suitably gooey and some of the humor actually hits. The poor security guard (Mike Lucock) has some actually funny lines and his obsession over a wound he receives actually provides some of the better moments (stay through the credits for two scenes).

Dreadout 3.JPG

The problem is that none of it is particularly scary. Even the jump scares feel so telegraphed or are filmed poorly that they fail to elicit a jolt, let alone a jump. The music is a bit overwrought and the scares all seem just slightly out of the scary angle. For instance, at one point Linda is slowly walking through the halls of the apartment and five bodies fall out of the stairwells, hanging by nooses. Except when it’s introduced, it’s just a pair of legs descending and it’s telegraphed to the point of banality.

Too much of the story is focused on different people falling in and out of the giant pool that appears in the apartment room. Characters fall in, fall out and end up in different pairs that it just feels a bit silly and contrived. Caitlin Halderman’s acting is pretty strong and she carries as much of the movie as she can, but none of the other characters really have any personality. I couldn’t even point out stereotypes outside of the jokester and the jock. A late narrative twist adds a bit of character drama that’s been sorely lacking, but it’s too little too late at that point.

I was really rooting for this movie. I thought maybe if taken away from the Hollywood adaptation machine that it’d have a chance of breaking the cycle of bad video game movies. But no, some things remain the same in every culture, it seems.