Imagine that you are an emotionally fragile, young, female screenwriter with a deadline. You also have a psycho ex-boyfriend and a dirty-old-man director or producer who is interested in you. About six months ago something traumatic happened to you — so traumatic that you are taking medication to help you cope.
Are you still with me? Remember, you’ve got a deadline to meet and you need to get away from the madding crowd. Where would you go? How about a huge, old, meticulously kept, Victorian house — deep in the woods and far from everything — that happens to belong to that dirty old man? When your roommate drives you there and asks if you’d like to keep the car (stupid question—how’s she getting back to town?), you say “no,” right?
Obviously I hate myself. If I didn’t, I would never have forced myself to watch more than four minutes of Deadline, a dead-on-arrival film released in 2009 which is garnering some small attention because it stars the recently deceased Brittany Murphy. Deadline was written and directed by Sean McConville, who apparently believes that you don’t have to choose between solutions, just throw what you’ve got together and let the audience figure it out. Mercifully short at 85 minutes, the film is packed with the absurd. And that’s not “absurd” in a good way.
It opens with Alice the screenwriter (Brittany Murphy) packing her bags. Her roommate, Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard), is with her when she opens a drawer and takes out a gun. When Rebecca asks, “What is that?,” I knew I should stop the movie and do anything else. Just anything. Clearly I was possessed by the same spirit that inspired this script because normally I would just go to a spoiler site and read how the movie ends. Perhaps I was fascinated by how awful Brittany Murphy and the rest of the cast looked. Do people still use the term “strung out”? That’s exactly how both Murphy and co-star Thora Birch (as Lucy) appeared. Additionally, Murphy’s shade of blonde was so bizarre it made my fire-engine-red locks look natural. The fourth major role in this film was David, played by Mark Blucas. I suspect that he’s a nice enough looking guy, but his makeup reflected cold sweats and little sleep. That's the director’s nod to continuity.
The viewer is given hints of things to come. Alice goes into a blue room with a crib and rocker and gets a little spacey caressing the crib sheet. Alice finds videos made by previous tenants David and Lucy. Alice hears screams in the night. My favorite? The home is spotless except for some strategically placed dust provided so Alice can find wet footprints. The problem is, those things-to-come never arrive. In a good movie, we’d call it plot twists; in this movie we’d say, “what plot?”
The most amazing thing about this “thriller” is that some people actually find it scary and thought-provoking. Here is a film that takes a dozen clichés out of the box, throws them in the script, and doesn’t follow through on any of them. It’s like saying, “Let’s make dessert,” taking a box of cake mix, a box of Jell-O, a box of pudding mix, and two eggs, throwing them in a bowl together and trying to get someone to eat it. Actually, that’s a good analogy because that’s how awful this movie is.
This film vies for the title “the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” The acting, direction, cinematography, makeup and hairstyles, and lighting all add up to one thing, an assault on the viewer. Netflix member “Torrzilla” wrote “Imagine a film where Brittany Murphy’s character from Don’t Say a Word decides to skip a few doses of Thorazine, becomes a screenwriter in a haunted old house and then acts out a boring version of What Lies Beneath. Then kill yourself.” That scenario offers more credibility than Deadline.
Bottom line: Would I recommend Deadline? Only if you’ve been very, very bad and need to be punished.