Alice, 32, a writer recovering from a psychological breakdown retreats to a remote Victorian house to convalesce and focus on finishing her screenplay in time for a fast approaching deadline. Shortly after her arrival, mysterious noises and strange happenings cause her imagination to run wild, sending her on a twisting and terrifying pursuit to find out what is behind the endless mind games. Frightened but intrigued, Alice gathers the courage to go down into the cold, dingy attic where she finds a shoe box filled with mini-dv tapes. The terrifying secret that lies within the tapes will unravel Alice’s dark past.
“Deadline” isn’t a bad movie. In fact, it’s done quite well.
The problem here is the fact that there isn’t anything new for most audiences. The cast does their best job to elevate the material they are given and it works. Now I have seen this film described as being “similar to The Shining”. Those are some seriously bold words and similar or not, the film doesn’t quite live up to the standard of such a classic and seminal film in the genre.
There is nothing in the film that jumps, pops, or wow you. “Deadline” is just another by the numbers thriller that we have seen many times before. Brittany Murphy is Alice, a screenwriter having a bout of
writer’s block. Her friend Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard) helps her to settle in an old house for a week so she can concentrate on her work. Alice is left alone in the huge old house and things quickly begin to get strange for her.
After hearing strange noises and other ghostly activity, she finds a box of mini-DV tapes that she quickly begins watching. The tapes document the lives of Lucy (Thora Birch) and David (Marc Blucas). While the mystery builds around the couple on the tapes, the more distraught Alice becomes. Is what she seeing and is what’s happening real or is Alice slowly losing her mind?
The film was written and directed by Sean McConville, a first time writer/director. As a director, he seemed confident and knew exactly what he wanted the material, making it work. As the film’s screenwriter, there is nothing on the written page that was unique. As soon as the story is set in motion, we see where we are headed, making the film incredibly predictable. It’s a hodgepodge of ideas
we have seen before and done much better.
What this film does have going for it is the cast. If there was ever a group of actors and actresses who are up to the challenge of selling mediocre material, we have it here. I have always enjoyed Brittany Murphy’s work and it was easy for me to get drawn into her story as Alice. This film shows me that there is more to her than being a spastic lunatic. Though her character has a hint of crazy in her, it is never over the top or too much that tends to be her signature. The majority of the film is Murphy in the house alone. And with the help of an incredible original score by Carlos Jose Alvarez, these scenes play out with a haunting sense of the unknown lurking around each corner.
Thora Birch is a talented young actress, I don’t feel that this role was exactly right for her, but she took it and ran with it. Her character, Lucy, is the sweet victim, the girl we don’t want to see bad things happen to, even though we know that they will. Marc Blucas as David was a solid choice. Though I hated him as Riley on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, his film career has been interesting and here is a strong performance.
“Deadline” is missing an edge. There is a lot going for it but it plays the story safe. There is no edge to the story that would set it apart from the films that have come before it. This could even be a TV movie or at the most just another PG-13 thriller aimed at a teenage crowd with a pretty cast. I’m sure there may be many people who will really like this film. It is aimed to please a casual crowd of movie watchers, the type of film to catch in the afternoon when flipping through the channels. For me, a rabid fan of horror/thrillers and this film offered me nothing new, just a chance to watch a handful of strong performers do the best with what they have.