Director: Sean McConville
Cast: Brittany Murphy, Thora Birch, Tammy Blanchard, Marc Blucas
Plot: A troubled screen-writer (Murphy) isolates herself in an old house for a week, so she can focus on her latest script. But is something in the house with her?
As far as horror movies go, Deadline is directed and acted really well. However, everything about it screams run-of-the-mill horror which ultimately brings this movie toppling down into obscurity.
Its biggest strength is Brittany Murphy as the lead. While she is always trapped in the usual pitfalls of a horror movie heroine, she does give the movie some credibility. She has those eyes that make her perfect for this kind of role; when the scares creep in, her ‘caught in the headlights’ eyes really dial up the tension a notch. I also liked how she went the extra mile with everything, suggesting that we only ever saw the start of her acting prowess when she sadly passed away. When a scene would require her to walk through a room, she would add a little emphasis into the movement, making the audience very clear on how amazed, upset or terrified she was at all times. Not a lot of scream queens do that, so it was nice to see. Also, I love how McConville portrayed her on film. As we have seen from Sin City and 8 Mile, Murphy is a really beautiful actress, but that was never played on here. It would have been easy to do; a lot of the plot involves her lying in a bath. However, there was never one moment where I thought the director was emphasising how pretty she was. Murphy either looked stressed and ready to break, which helps the ‘is she really just crazy?’ angle, or as if she is just mooching around the house. This makes perfect sense. She is a writer on a week’s retreat; she has no one to impress, so why would she dress up. It made sense and was one of the cleverer beats of the movie.
Sadly, no matter how well Deadline is filmed, it suffers from the fact we have done this before. Any horror movie that involves one person wandering around an abandoned house, while something malevolent stirs in the background, has done whatever Deadline is trying to do before. As far as setting the scene, the writer purposefully wanting to cut herself off from the outside world actually works quite well, covering the main plot holes easily and effortlessly. However, as we tick off the compulsory beats of exposition “Take the car; I want to be stranded here”, we cannot help but roll our eyes at the clear build-up to your average horror. McConville might be able to do tension well, as he patiently films long, revolving shots, keeping us convinced a jump scare is just around the corner, but eventually the trick gets old. There isn’t even really one decent scare to make Deadline overly worth watching. Even the horror movie creature looks totally unoriginal and when it first makes an appearance in the reflection of the mirror, it adds to the ‘this movie is going to give me nothing new’ feeling and we sink back in mediocrity.
It does try to do something new. With a plot point that might just have inspired Sinister, Murphy finds a box of tapes in the attic. The last couple who lived in this house have several home movies of them hanging around the house. At first, the tapes start off romantic, but then they take a nasty turn (Blucas in particular is on fine form as the husband), and Murphy becomes obsessed with the couple that used to live here. This is the niche that the movie desperately needs to separate itself, but it almost completely drops the ‘haunted house’ routine and becomes a movie about Murphy watching home movies. Nothing as mind-blowing as the tapes on Sinister happen and it becomes very dull, very quick. The pace picks up eventually, but the twists and turns begin to make little sense. The reveal at the end made little sense and the scares become non-existent. It also suffers from the idea that Brittany Murphy affects the action of the climax in a very little way. Deadline is a good idea that… no, actually it wasn’t too good an idea in the first place.
Final Verdict: Brittany Murphy is a good lead, but Deadline is essentially a re-working of every abandoned house horror you’ve ever seen.