DreadOut review

For comparison’s sake, the DreadOut movie is like a stealth Fatal Frame adaptation given how Indonesia’s survival horror video game, which gives the film its title, is often likened to Japan’s popular ghosts-on-camera platformer. Kimo Stamboel, half of the infamous filmmaking “Mo Brothers” duo, proves that not all video game adaptations are buggy disasters.

In particular, DreadOut stands proud with Resident Evil and Silent Hill as adaptations programmed right (horror movies are just better, y’all). Stamboel draws not only from his Macabre brother Timo Tjahjanto, referencing the gore in May The Devil Take You, but this film possesses Sam Raimi vibes à la Evil Dead and Army Of Darkness. (Not to downplay how much DreadOut lends itself to video game and viral media culture.)

Oh, and best of all? The movie is a freaky and frantic blast of immersive horror.

Honoring the Digital Happiness game’s “schoolkids in peril” vibe, the film follows Linda (Caitlin Halderman) and her classmates as they investigate a police-taped apartment with the hope of capturing footage to boost their social media following. Erik (Jefri Nichol), Jessica (Marsha Aruan), and others foolishly ignore the warnings of haunted pasts, unwittingly opening a swirling aquatic portal to an alternate realm. Linda soon learns she’s been summoned to the abandoned building for a reason, as she’s the only one who can read glowing ritual scribbles and chase demons away with her mobile camera flash. Can Linda rescue her friends, evade the “Woman In Red,” and reseal the cursed gateway for good?

Stamboel’s cleverest accomplishment with DreadOut is coaxing an original story out of video game limitations, but still retaining the visual blueprints of survival horror. Instagram live-feed windows are employed here, as are first-person perspectives torn from gamer screenshots. Better yet, video game cinematography exists to emphasize action on screen when fanged apparitions lunge up close and personal towards petrified characters. Otherwise, third-person viewpoints exploit supernatural levitation and force-pushing that would be lost behind a “found footage” barrier. As the 2005 Doom adaptation understands, paying homage to video game stylization doesn’t need to be a full-time gimmick. DreadOut sparingly hops behind glowing smartphone screens, recalling how Doom’s FPS sequence high-scores because it’s used sparingly. Stamboel is smart about his adaptation’s vision, commanding directorial freedoms while still contextualizing familiarity for gamer fanbases.

My dedication to consoles means DreadOut has so far escaped my catalog, but after watching a lengthy demo playthrough, Stamboel honors the nightmare imagery that makes gamers recoil in fright – specifically, a “Pocong Warrior,” aka cloth-wrapped mummy-lookin’ corpse wielding his handheld sickle. Only a single eye fixates from pulled-aside linen, but the peeper eerily bulges while CG illumination highlights the mystical aspects of Stamboel’s screenplay. You’ll recognize the rage-fueled “Lady in Red,” swarming locusts, and jungle-dewy lands where evil resides, as DreadOut’s tone balances healthy recreation and inspired originality. It’s never beholden to existing constructs, but always conscious of fan expectations.

DreadOut progresses with stunted normality until Linda’s cut-from-stereotype friends finish what a mysterious cult once started – connecting our world to the “Lady In Red’s” domain. Once Linda encounters her first paranormal adversary, Stamboel conjures psyche-snapping haunts defined by surreal qualities. I’m obsessed with multiple long takes where Red Kabaya Lady (Rima Melati Adams) zooms into focus from afar, levitating high above gravitational expectations like a bomb-ass horror villain; she flies through the sky towards Linda, able to flip victims as the camera stays level or launch bodies with a screech and outreached gesture. It’s all so disorienting and devious, as teenagers can be possessed by the ghoul like meat puppets. DreadOut’s meritorious funhouse walkthrough is its selling point, manifesting enraged inserts as in-your-face monster encounters capitalize on bloodcurdling dread.

The “Lady In Red’s” purgatorial sandbox world is a blank canvas for Stamboel, who delivers jolts, screams, and heaps of horror excitement. Worlds collide through underwater passageways as spirits and humans play cat-and-mouse on both turfs. When Linda readies her ghost-bustin’ camera, snapping flash-lit pics, paranoia spikes. As Ms. Red screams otherworldly threats into the student’s device, we’re reminded of Fede Alvarez’s “Deadite” designs – except with more reptilian menace. There’s motive (a ceremonial dagger) and connectivity throughout, but DreadOut is best appreciated as stage-by-stage checkpoints punctuated by mini-boss battles, with its overall storytelling overshadowed by bursts of invigorated terrorization.

Kimo Stamboel’s solo directorial debut avoids the dreaded “video game adaptation” stigma that few have been able to conquer. It’s not perfect, with most issues chalked up to Act I’s generic meet-up material, brief glimpses of wishy-washy digital effects, or characters as space fillers. Even so, DreadOut is still a gamer’s nightmare (in a good way) and a horror fan’s playfully demonizing escape. Limbs are sliced, screams are bellowed, and boogeybeasts frolic within an energetic Devil’s playground. All those Fatal Frame references are out of nothing but love, yet let it be known that DreadOut is its own defiant genre entity. “Press Play” if you dare.  

/Film Review: 7 out of 10

Cool Posts From Around the Web:

About the Author

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking about cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).