Brittany Murphyís untimely passing this past Christmas was as unfortunate as it was unexpected. She was only 33 years old, yet it seemed like her career had already peaked. Like a lot of working actors, she had a few projects already in the pipe when she passed so weíll see a few more films with her in it. These films, however, canít help but be watched with the context of her death looming like a shadow at our shoulders. Will her death lend resonance to films that donít deserve it? Is there a gem just waiting to be released?
Alice (Brittany Murphy) is a struggling screenwriter with a troubled past, a rocky romantic relationship and a looming deadline. When a wealthy benefactor offers her the use of his impressive country mansion, sheís positive that this opportunity is just what she needs to get her work back on track. Her girlfriend, Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard), is not so sure and despite Aliceís assurances that she will be okay spending a month alone, is hesitant to leave her by herself. She was right to be worried. Almost as soon as Rebecca leaves, Alice starts encountering all manner of strange phenomenon: faucets that drip endlessly, strange noises in the night, and a box of videotapes that document a chilling story. Alice begins to watch the story of the previous tenants, a young married couple named Lucy (Thora Birch) and David (Marc Blucas), unfold before her eyes. Lucy is pregnant with their first child and David wants to document the pregnancy for their baby to watch in the future (a claim made dubious when he tries to coax Lucy into making an impromptu sex tape).
As the story unfolds, Davidís jealousy boils to the surface. He becomes obsessed with the idea that Lucy has been cheating on him and that Lucyís unborn baby is the result of her affair. Heís also obsessed with his video camera and he, unintentionally, becomes documentarian of his own descent into madness. Alice becomes wrapped up in the story unfolding before her eyes. When it turns out that the last tape in the set is missing, Alice sets out to find it and hopefully unravel the mystery and stop the ghostly visions tormenting her. When the finds the tape, a secret is revealed that threatens her very life and sanity.
Why does this movie even exist? And, more importantly, why is it called Deadline?
There really isnít a hoary haunted house clichť that Deadline doesnít dust off and drag out like the proverbial dead horse. Itís not impossible for a film to adhere to clichť and still be interesting but there isnít the style or level of performance needed to elevate such dull, plodding material as the script for Deadline. 2009 saw the release of several competent ghost stories (and one notably excellent one) and itís Deadlineís poor fortune to be released close enough to those films to invite comparison. It doesnít fare well. Not even the passing of Brittany Murphy lends this film any kind of resonance. It canít even accidentally be creepy.
The film is loaded with pretension. Thereís a fine line between suspenseful long shots and boring long takes. Hitchcock knew that even long takes need to hold your interest. There are a lot of times where thereís nothing of interest on the screen and no solid promise of something interesting to come. The camera circles Lucy while she plays Moonlight Sonata on the piano (could there be a more hackneyed musical selection?) for two minutes with no apparent purpose: it builds no atmosphere, doesnít contribute to character or story. Itís just a jerk off.
Deadline doesnít establish its characters with any real efficiency. Thereís a romantic relationship central to the film thatís never clearly defined. Whatís maddening is that it was left unexplained not to serve some narrative purpose or artistic aesthetic, but simply to be unclear for the sake of being unclear. Itís ambiguity in lieu of substance.
Worst of all is the contrivance of the video camera. Itís distracting and annoying and breaks the suspension of disbelief, which is damning. But even worse is that the film doesnít even have the courage to stick with the device and switches to a third person point of view during the flashbacks.
The movie feels curiously empty; the above the title actors listed on the front of the package are literally the only actors in the entire film. Even a film as insular as Kubrickís The Shining was still populated by people and felt like there was a world that existed outside of the frame. Deadlineís barrenness betrays it for what it is: a cheap quickie knocked off in a weekend.
Poor Brittany Murphy. She was a capable actress but here sheís given nothing to do but drift through the film unflatteringly photographed, her expression drifting from totally vacant to mildly constipated. She could be an incredibly likable and sympathetic screen presence yet none of her natural charisma is on display. And I pine for the days when Thora Birch appeared in movies like American Beauty and Ghost World, where she exhibited talent and sex appeal. Now she seems to appear in direct-to-video garbage like Deadline, all wan and washed out, lumpy and shapeless beneath a hideous dress. She was such an appealing presence in Ghost World, so cute and sassy. What happened?
Director/Writer/Producer Sean McConville clearly took on too many hats. The failure of the film rests entirely on his shoulders. The film really suffers from his inexperience as a director; he seems more interested in making a statement than making a good movie. The technical credits are fine and the actors do what they can but the entire enterprise is let down by poor writing and lackluster, unfocused direction.
Again and again the film clumsily fumbles its subject matter and falls back on clichť. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt hoping that things would pull together, but midway through I just gave up. The filmmakers were obviously going for a meditation on the theme of jealousy but watching the cast interviews shows that nobody, least of all the writer/director really had a firm handle on what the film was trying to say. It takes a good 45 minutes before anything even remotely interesting happens but by then it was too late. Thereís a final twist but itís all too predictable to anyone whoís watched even a single film in the last, say, half century.
Not bad. The contrast seems a bit off and in the darker scenes final detail is lost in black crush. Flesh tones are spot on. Although colours look washed out, fine detail is good in day scenes and the foggy scenes are rendered without pixels. It didnít blow my hair back, but itís a perfectly acceptable presentation of a thoroughly awful movie.
The only audio track is a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track and itís better than one would expect for a direct to video feature. Thereís good channel separation, and a consistently strong low-end. A couple of effective startle scares are spread to the surrounds and the surprisingly good score is well represented. Dialogue is quieter than need be and can occasionally be tough to discern. Better than I expected, although the effort is wasted on garbage like Deadline.
Mercifully the only supplement included is a 10-minute behind the scenes featurette. Itís your typical fluff piece that intercuts interviews with behind the scenes footage and film clips. The delusional way the actors talk about the film as if it were the next Fellini masterpiece is mildly amusing. I know you need to pimp your film, but seriously. The level of spin on display is insulting to the intelligence. Whatís really odd is that the interviews are presented in non-anamorphic 1.78, while the 2.35 film clips are horizontally squeezed into the 1.78 frame. Even somebody jacking around with windows moviemaker couldíve done a better job incorporating the film clips. They way itís done on this commercially available disc is ridiculous and totally unacceptable.
I was never scared or engaged in any way, I was just kind of sad and depressed that this is one of the last things Murphy will have on her resume. Olivier she was not, but she still deserved better than to close out her career with such a lazy and undistinguished piece of claptrap like Deadline. Avoid.
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
Damn...and I loved Brittany Murphey...:( RIP
Just watched this.....its not bad, Brittany turns in a great performance and is indeed the strongest link in the cast, but the film does suffer from weak, questionable story elements....
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