Deadline has been hanging out on my Netflix queue for wow, a few years now it seems. I keep moving it up and down, never able to decide if I actually want to see it or not. So when I saw it was on one of my HD movie stations I decided to DVR it, that way I could watch it whenever the mood struck me. Well, I've been struck.
I'm generally not one to talk smack about the dead, and that's really not what I'm doing here, but I really have to say - Brittany Murphy looks like death warmed over throughout this entire film. Yes I realize she died in late 2009, ironically just days after this film came out on DVD. Which in and of itself is creepy enough, but when you take a look at the DVD cover and it shows her looking quite cadaverous lying in a bathtub - and Brittany was found in her bathroom - it just freaks a girl out. Quite frankly, in this whole film she looks just steps from death. Resembles a forlorn crack addict on the way out. Poor thing, I feel bad for what happened to her, but man she is simply pale and lifeless in this movie. Perhaps that is what the role called for...perhaps she was already ill. Either way, she made me want to tuck her into bed with some Tylenol and a cold rag on her forehead. Seriously, practically every scene she is in she looks either on the brink of death or utterly stoned.
So her good friend Rebecca leaves the fragile Alice at the sprawling near-mansion in order for her to "be alone to finish her manuscript before her deadline". Yeah, I'd really like to think my BFF wouldn't leave me by myself if I was close to rocking in the corner or worse yet scared to death of an old boyfriend. But hey, this is the movies. Whatever.
Alice checks out the house, settles in, and before we know it is sitting in a dark room at a desk with just one lamp lit, working on her computer. Tell me why on earth nobody ever turns on the damn lights in these old houses? I'd have a light on in every room. Not that I would be stupid enough to move into a far-removed house with a crazy ex on the loose...
She starts to receive the prerequisite creepy phone calls, unexplained noises, and is eventually led to the attic (where no one in their right mind would venture to in an unfamiliar house). She finds a box of videotapes and sets about checking them out. I should mention that she conveniently has a video camera with her and has a habit of filming random things. She begins watching said videos and becomes convinced something terrible has happened in the house. Overcome with the feeling that the couple in the videos have had a tragedy happen there, Alice discovers upon further viewing that Lucy (Thora Birch) and David (Marc Blucas) were a happily married couple who were having a baby. However, as time (and videos) go by, David appears to be an extremely jealous and frenzied man. He claims Lucy has been cheating on him and that the baby is not his.
Amazing to me is the fact that Alice watches the undated video clips in the clearly appropriate order, making her mystery-solving as easy as an episode of Scooby-Doo, with the next answer just within reach.
As we watch the videos with Alice, we also learn a bit about Alice's past and why she is such a nervous nellie. The hard times she has lived through seem to parallel Lucy's, which makes it hard not only for Alice to differentiate the past from reality, but hard for us to figure out just what is going on. The film is a bit slow, waiting until nearly the end to throw any action our way. But it kept me intrigued enough to keep watching. The house is gorgeous yet thoroughly creepy, with dark-lit rooms, creaking doors, dripping water - all the things that make a haunted house (if that is indeed what we should call it) feel authentic.
Murphy carries the whole of the movie by herself, as a woman descending into possible madness. She is believable and genuine, and like I said - she certainly looks the part of a haggard, somewhat mentally unstable woman. She is so overwhelmed with the story of Lucy and David that she can't see what it is doing to her psychologically. She begins to lose rational thought, immersing herself in their disturbing story so much that it's obvious she just might not make it back to reality.
Deadline isn't exactly rocket science. I had it figured out well before the ending but really wanted to see how it played out. Like I said, it's a slow-mover, so much so that I actually drifted off (blame my surgical pain meds!) a few times and had to rewind. Probably a good thing though, because I think it may take a second viewing to get the entire gist of this one. The soundtrack/score is rather good here, lending a spooky backtrack to all of Alice's wandering aimlessly around dark empty rooms and trips to the bathroom to that damn leaky faucet.
All in all I guess I would have to say I liked Deadline. I think? Like I said, nothing mind-blowing plot-wise, but you could do worse on a random rainy afternoon. It kind of felt like a Lifetime Movie-of the-Week, but if you're not above watching those (don't lie, you know you watch them!), you'll do fine. Be forewarned it is a tedious, confusing movie at times, but it does convey a relatively dreadful atmosphere. Again, maybe it was just my pain meds speaking to me.
One final note: the movie poster for Deadline was pulled immediately after Murphy's death on December 20th, 2009. It had only been in release for 19 days (though it didn't play theaters, it went straight to DVD). The unnerving image from the movie poster that I have at the top of this post is the original. The one I display here is the one they used after her death. Personally I think they both are in poor taste after how she died. It creeps me out to see her displayed there in that bathtub like that, in particular with the title of the film. But no one said movie studios have a heart.