Brittany Murphy typically gives good crazy, in Don’t Say a Word, Just Married and, well, her offscreen life. But she can’t give true lift to the waterlogged Deadline, a mopey mood piece that is irredeemably caught halfway between being a “haunted place” flick and a single-character study of unraveling sanity. Recalling various other moody genre efforts both successful (The Others, Session 9) and less so (Dark Water, fellow straight-to-video flick Asylum), Deadline is unappealingly photographed and stitched together without a truly compelling sense of downhill momentum.
With her violent ex-boyfriend about to be released from prison, Alice (Murphy) hitches a ride to a remote Victorian house from her friend Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard), in order to veg out and focus on finishing her screenplay in time for an impending deadline. When she begins hearing strange sounds and seeing apparitions, Alice searches for the source and comes across some disturbing videotapes in the attic. Fascinated by her discovery, Alice digs deeper into mysterious story of the couple on the tapes, newlyweds Lucy and David (Thora Birch and Marc Blucas), a story that involves just the sort of paranoia, jealousy and violence to which she is already accustomed from her own personal life.
Without necessarily giving away the rather sigh-inducing twists within the movie, notions of unwinding artistic sanity have previously been tackled in gripping fashion, in everything from The Shining to David Koepp’s underrated Secret Window. So there is the kernel of an interesting idea here. Deadline, however, is muddled, and most characterized by a forced bleakness that substitutes for interesting characters or story development. Writer-director Sean McConville trades in all the sort of stylistic touches an audience that would most inclined to rent or purchase Deadline has seen before — various drones, affectedly howling winds, dripping faucets, creaky doors and self-consciously eerie whooshes — and the structure of his script, which awkwardly intercuts these temporal flashbacks with Alice watching the videos on her laptop computer, comes across as problematically boring almost from the get-go.
Blucas and Birch play types (the silver-tongued abusive lout who comes to believe his wife is cheating, and the pregnant, increasingly terrorized wife who plots to escape his clutches), so the movie is left to sink or sail on its look and manipulation of tone, as well as Murphy’s performance. The former is dreary and unexciting, not nearly darkly seductive enough; poor, puffy-lipped Murphy, meanwhile, captures some of the “hot mess” qualities of Alice, but does not come across as nearly enough of an artistic soul to realistically propel Deadline‘s narrative.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case, Deadline comes presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with English language 5.1 Dolby digital and 2.0 stereo tracks, to better capture all the discrete, prodding aural cues. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are also included. Apart from five preview trailers, the only supplemental feature is a 10-minute making-of clip which intercuts behind-the-scenes footage and interview clips with cast and crew, who talk up both the story and producer Roger Betterton’s moxie. To purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here. D+ (Movie) D+ (Disc)