Monday, March 28, 2011

Another failed attempt at capturing a webcast

Dead on Site (2011)
Starring: Mai-Ly Duong, Jamie Perkins, Robbie Daymond, Maggie Guzman, Christopher Burnham, and Jaymz Johnson
Director: Scott Kenyon Barker
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

A group of college students set out to webcast reenactments of gruesome, unsolved murders from the house they happened in. But after their website goes live, mysterious happenings, both online and in the house, make them fear that they are being watched... either by supernatural forces, or perhaps by a very real killer who might want to some reenacting of his own.

"Dead on Site" is the third horror movie I've seen that tries to build a story around webcams and the broadcasting possibility they represent vis-a-vis "reality television". It's also the third time I've seen filmmakers fail to make a good horror movie based around the concept.

The first was "Halloween: Resurrection" (2002) a sequel so misbegotten that Michael Myers felt shoe-horned into his own series. Then came "Hell Asylum",which was either a symptom of not-so-great minds thinking alike, or of what happens when schlock filmmakers want to rip off what they perceive as "the next great thing". Now, it's "Dead on Site", which is better than the ones that came before, but which is still a deeply flawed movie.

First off, the final college project that the film is based around is very inept in its execution, vaguely defined, and not the sort of thing I can see a professor signing off on, let alone giving a passing grade for at the end of the day. (Well, except out of sympathy, given the way things turn out but that's not what they could have counted on going in.)

Secondly, the script is poorly written. Each character sounds and talks alike and they don't even have much in the way of personalities to distinguish one from the other, so when they start getting killed off/disappearing, you'll find yourself asking, "Who was that again?"

It doesn't help anything that the attempts at casting this or that character as the possible killer that has infiltrated the group boil down to a pair of characters threaten to kill the one truly obnoxious member of the group.

The couple of characters that have interesting back-stories are also not properly utilized, such as the wanna-be detective hoping to crack the murder mystery--I don't think I've seen less investigation or less serious recreation of a crime scene take place outside of backyard cops-and-robbers games among 9-year-olds--or the B-movie actress turned grad student at the end of a flamed-out career. Both of these characters could have been utilized to add some depth and texture to the story. The performances given by the actors aren't bad, but the material they are working with is so thin that there's not much they can do with it.

Finally, there's a completely unnecessary and out-of-left-field supernatural element inserted into the story at the 11th hour when the killer is revealed to be an immortal servant of Satan. There is no set-up of this element, nor does it have any connection to anything else in the movie.

Perhaps if the script had been taken through another draft or two, the dialogue would have been sharpened and the character elements would have been more clearly defined and utilized in driving the story. Heck, perhaps even the "immortal killer" idea would have appeared at some point earlier in the story.

Basically, this film fails because of the one thing that even the lowest of low-budget filmmakers has complete control over: The quality of the script. And it's too bad that an otherwise decent cast is let down by it, with Jamie Perkins is particularly good at playing a complete jerk.

"Dead on Site" premieres on DVD on April 5. My thanks to Maxim Media for providing me with an advanced copy of the film to review.