Saturday, October 23, 2010

'Deadline' needed more intensity, faster pace

Deadline (aka "Ghost House")(2009)
Starring: Brittany Murphy, Tammy Blanchard, Thora Birch, and Marc Blucas
Director: Sean McConville
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A writer recovering from a mental breakdown (Murphy) retreats to an isolated house owned by her agent in an attempt to finish the script for a horror movie. She soon discovers the house holds a dark secret... and that she may not be alone. But is she being stalked by her murderous ex-boyfriend, a vengeful ghost, or phantasms conjured by her broken mind?

"Deadline" is a cross between the "writer goes crazy" sub-genre and the venerable gothic thriller where the main character is a psychologically unstable woman that is either out of her mind, or someone is trying to drive her there with a fake haunting. As far as that goes, it does a fine job in blending these two old-fashioned horror stories and updating them to current times with cell phones, lap tops, and digital camcorders. It also manages to keep the truth of what's going on with the writer and the house an open question up to the very end. And when the truth is revealed, it's not a huge shock to anyone familiar with either of the genres being fused in this film, but it is nonetheless somewhat pleasant that it ends up being slightly unusual.

But what isn't done well here is the pacing. Even at 85 minutes, the film feels slow and bloated. I understand that writer/director McConville wanted to establish the creepy nature of the house and to convey the sense of isolation and growing dread felt by Murphy's character as she roams its cavernous and shadow-filled rooms, but he didn't have to do it over and over and over. And the languid pace doesn't seem to pick up much even after the haunting begins in earnest; moments of horror are bursts of activity surrounded by more slow, nearly tension free scenes. The second and third acts of movies like this one need to be like a steel wire stretched nearly to the point of breaking, but here that wire remains mostly slack. If a total of five minutes or so had been cut from various places in this film, I think it would have made the difference between boring and horrifying.

As for the acting, the film is basically carried completely by Brittany Murphy. While she does an okay job--striking a nice balance between someone fighting for their life and someone who is having a complete mental breakdown--her overall performance seems to lack the energy and intensity that is required from an actor when they are by themselves on screen for the majority of a film. She did a far better job in the quirky slasher film "Cherry Falls" than she does here, perhaps because she had other actors to play off... or perhaps because of superior direction. It's hard to say, and we'll never know, because Murphy won't be doing any more slasher films or haunted house movies. She passed away in 2009.

If you're a big lover of gothic horror flicks, or perhaps a charter member of the Brittany Murphy fan club, this might be a movie worth seeking out. Everyone else can probably wait for it to show up on television where it may be edited and given the faster pace it needed.

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