No, that’s pretty much all I’ve got, is “Huh.”
Deadline starts out promisingly enough. The late Brittany Murphy plays Alice, an unstable screenwriter recently escaped from an abusive relationship, who retreats to an ominous Louisiana mansion to finish her screenplay despite the misgivings of her girlfriend Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard). No sooner does she get there than the house begins doing Creepy Things: faucets run of their own accord, Alice hears disembodied weeping, wet footprints appear on the floor. Alice follows the footprints up to the attic, where – in an impressive display of either sangfroid or overmedication – she forgets about them completely and starts rummaging around in people’s luggage.
There she finds the centerpiece of the movie: a set of videocassettes chronicling the relationship of the young couple (Thora Birch and Marc Blucas) who lived there some years ago as it starts out on shaky ground and plunges headlong into paranoia and murder.
The cinematography in Deadline is its saving grace; the house is beautiful and eerie, and the use of light and shadow is impressive in places if overdone in others. Murphy, rest her soul, here has exactly the look of vague waiflike crazy that Alice should have. And yet the movie still falls flat. There’s no real suspense in the videotapes because Thora Birch is so utterly creeped out by her own husband right from the outset that you know it’s going to end badly. (And no wonder she’s creeped out. Blucas’ performance, overwrought though it sometimes is, is one of the few effective things about the movie. The first time you see him with that video camera in his hands he’s just sitting at the kitchen table, and it’s still so freakish and invasive that you want to rip the camera out of his hands and stomp on it.) There’s some mileage to be gotten out of wondering how much of it is real and how much is in Alice’s head, but not enough to carry the film.
The real dealbreaker is the ending, though. I’m all for twist endings, but I do ask that they not invalidate everything that came before them. When the credits roll, the only thing we know that we didn’t know at the opening credits is that Alice is far more disturbed than previously advertised, which given how unbalanced she was to begin with is not that big a reveal. In fact, a lot is made of the parallels between Alice and Thora Birch’s Lucy, but it seems like the more apt parallel is between Lucy and Alice’s hapless girlfriend Rebecca; both of them are involved with people that any right-thinking person should cross the street to avoid.
So what’s the verdict? Two stars for the cinematography and the creepy feel of the first ten or fifteen minutes. It isn’t a bad movie, there’s just… no there there. At the end you’ll be left going “Well, that happened,” and surfing back to Netflix to see if you can find anything better.