Deadline (US - BD RA)
Gabe probably should've finished this review sooner, now it feels a bit creepy...
Alice Evans (Brittany Murphy) is behind schedule on a screenplay following a shocking event involving an abusive ex-boyfriend, which led to a psychological breakdown (note: the ‘screenplay’ aspect of her ‘deadline’ isn’t specified until the end of the film). Even though the abusive ex is on his way out of prison, and apparently looking for her, Alice decides it’s a good idea to seclude herself for the week in an empty Victorian-style home, against the advice of her supportive friend Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard). Alice stops taking her medicine, and discovers a series of video tapes in the house’s creepy attic. The tapes reveal the eerily analogous tale of the house’s previous tenants, who mysteriously disappeared.
First time writer/director Sean McConville, who has apparently worked in Hollywood special effects for a long time, certainly has an eye for theatrical visuals, and he’s certainly watched and studied just as many ghost stories as the rest of us. Deadline develops a mood quickly, and it’s all dread-caked and unnerving. The visuals are graceful, and the compositions are filled with enough to really sell the likely super-cheap film as one with better than average production values. McConville explores the fine details of his haunted house, and the mechanics of the suspense are built in to every inch of ever close-up, which are eerily contrasted by the wide shots, which feature centred pale subjects engulfed in oppressive darkness. Yet the narrative follows a structure so well travelled the scares work more out of anticipation instead of genuine surprise.
In my concerted effort to enjoy the film I keep coming back to this banal script. Deadline is so frustratingly predictable I spent my time accurately guessing exactly what was going to happen next. Conville makes attempts at structural complexity by telling two stories at once, but even this is a prototypical ghost story element. Coincidence and generally unbelievable elements are beside the point in the case of most ghost stories, especially ones with a slightly moralistic slant, but this particular story doesn’t really add anything new to the well-treaded formula. At best this is a padded episode of Tales From the Crypt, minus most of the comedic irony. Murphy does what she can with the character, but Alice’s arc is sudden, and her actions are exactly the kind characters should avoid in such movies that it doesn’t really matter. I’ve seen enough horror films to know that these characters don’t know they’re in a horror movie, but this one was hard not to scream at.
Deadline makes its Blu-ray debut (which seems to be tandem with its DVD and Netflix On-Demand debut) in full 1080p HD, and things are certainly fine, though far from spectacular. On the whole the colours are still pretty muted and blued, and there aren’t very many highlights. Most of the scenes between the mysterious couple (past tense) are quite a bit warmer and richer than the scenes of Alice in the house (presence tense). Black levels are surely deep, which is important based on the film’s overall shadowy look. The print isn’t the cleanest I’ve seen on Blu-ray, but the grain and minor artefacts are pretty consistent throughout. There’s no heavy blocking on richer reds, or extra noisy whites. The grain isn’t particularly fine, which appears to be a symptom of the disc’s generally average sharpness. In the case of a lower budgeted feature less sharpness is preferable to over-sharpening and edge-enhancement, but detail-philes will likely be disappointed in the transfers overall look. The depth of field is reasonably deep throughout the film, and there is no loss of detail in the backgrounds, unlike the DVD release (which I also received, and which I took these captures from), which almost matches the Blu-ray in close-ups.
The box art is badly designed. Under special features the sound is listed as ‘5.1 Digital Surround’. Below that, along the bottom of the specs, is a Dolby Digital logo, and a DTS logo. The menu system lists the sound available as Dolby TrueHD 5.1 or Dolby Stereo, which is apparently accurate. Despite these problems, and the films generally lacklustre quality, this 5.1 mix is certainly effective. The surround channels are quite active throughout the film. The mood effects give away the film’s budget because they sound like they’re taken straight off of an effects CD, but the placement is fantastic. Outdoor scenes feature chirping crickets and unseen birds, while the interiors are awash with pointed creaks and clatters. The directional clarity is nearly perfect, and the separation is quite discreet. The centre channel is perhaps a bit lower than preferable, but certainly clear, and dynamically as busy as the rest of the track. The soundtrack reminds me a lot of the ‘you’re in a safe zone’ melancholy music that plays during survival videogames. The line between music and effects is blurred plenty of times, like when crying children infiltrate the rear channels. The lack of aggressive LFE is the tracks only notable shortcoming.
The only extras on the disc are a fluffy making-of featurette (10:00, SD), that covers the basics of the script, casting, and production, and a series of trailers. The interview subjects (cast and crew) are full of spoilers in their praise of what they swear up and down is a solid and intuitive script.
A bigger problem than the generally bland quality of Deadline, which shouldn’t be enough to chase away the curious, especially not Murphy’s fans (note, I wrote this before Sunday the 20th, and it wasn't supposed to be so sad), is the back cover art. Besides generally being an unattractive jumble of images, and not making any changes from the DVD’s back cover art, the technical facts are misleading. The random placement of a DTS logo, the lack of a Dolby TrueHD logo or notation, and the inclusion of a Region 1 logo (on a Blu-ray) is bizarre and random. Fortunately this isn’t an indication of the disc’s A/V quality, which isn’t incredibly impressive, but a distinct upgrade from the DVD copy.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 1st December 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Behind the Scenes Footage, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Sean McConville
Cast: Brittany Murphy, Thora Birch, Tammy Bianchard, Marc Blucas
Genre: Horror and Thriller
Length: 89 minutes
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