DREADOUT from Indonesian director Kimo Stamboel has to be one of the true standouts of the festival. Following the live stream of six students who break into an abandoned apartment building where a ritualistic exorcism happened years ago, the film takes the characters from a decrepit Urban setting into a fantasy world. Accidentally opening a portal to a zombie infested jungle mansion, Linda (Caitlin Halderman) unlocks a memory of her childhood and the death of her mother. Here, in a cursed alternate reality she seems to be the only one who has power to defeat the demoness who wants nothing more then to escape to the other side. Or is there something else that’s driving her, as Linda soon discovers that her inclusion in this group of friends is not exactly random? The best things about DreadOut Are all the design elements. From the jungle cemetery to the swirling pool of water that opens up in the apartment floor, the production designer makes the most out of just a few locations, providing a complicated environment for the heroes to negotiate scene after scene. The effects work bring to mind the original Japanese horror masterpieces like RINGU and THE EYE that first made me realize that horror had been so limited in America for years by simple Boogeymen. There’s very elaborate wire work that was surprising in a film that seemed to be pressing up hard against its budgetary limits and yet never revealing any flaws.
Caitlin Halderman plays every moment with depth and intention. Unlike many scream queens she never seems to draw upon some sort of power that we don’t believe she had prior. She’s come out of great suffering and finds her strength in the moment but that doesn’t mean she isn’t terrified through the whole film. She’s completely believable in a fantasy world of horror. She does however seem to rely upon the same weapon a few too many times, but that’s a flaw in the writing. The flash on Linda’s cell phone for some unexplained reason affects the creatures on the other side of the portal. One of the most frustrating things about the film is the completely consistent power Linda’s cell phone had, which revealed words where no one else could see them, uncovered controlling invisible demons through the camera, and fired torturous flash bulbs that drove off evil. I loved how unified it was, but I was desperate to understand the rationale. It was also frustrating that no one else seemed to question it. Sometimes all you need in a film is for a character to ask the same question the audience is asking so they are at least acknowledging the problem and the fact that they don’t have an answer.
Yet, the biggest flaw of DreadOut is how safe everyone is through the whole film. As the crew heads into the apartment, all I could think of was with 6 kids there’s going to be a lot of death. Add to that group the security guard and we have 7 potential victims. Unfortunately, battle after battle, horror after horror, everyone seems to survive. [SPOILER] In fact the only death comes 10 minutes before the end of the film and is really underwhelming. It’s almost as if they were trying to make a horror film for kids. Disappointingly, this safety really undercuts any tension or danger in the film. By the end of the film, you feel like you’ve been to another place and experienced something but it’s not nearly as powerful as it might be if the crew truly felt like survivors. This is also clearly a setup for a franchise if you make it through the credits, which may explain the unlikely living power of the crew. I don’t know – it’s what kept the film from being truly fantastic. When you set up such a great world and evil creature running it, it really needs to be paid off with equal destruction of our world or what is the point? Still, DreadOut had moment after moment of pure inspired fantastical horror and director Stamboul set himself far apart from his previous work KILLERS, which I felt was pretty derivitative. DreadOut stands completely on its own, and I will happily open this portal for a sequel.