In the grand scheme of video game adaptations, the hit/miss ratio is pretty significantly skewed towards the latter. Mileage may vary based on how beloved the property is, how adamant the fans are, or how willing audiences are to accept creative license.
In the case of DreadOut, the latest film adaptation of a successful videogame, the foundational premise remains relatively intact. The game focuses on a group of Indonesian high school teens who wind up in a strange town that is overrun by paranormal activity and malevolent ghosts. The heroine, Linda, must uncover the town’s secrets, as well as realize her own power (and the power of her smartphone/camera) to combat the forces who threaten her and her friends.
That logline is also more or less the plot of the 2019 film adaptation by Kimo Stamboel. In the film, a group of social-media obsessed teenagers attempt to find viral fame by investigating an abandoned apartment building condemned by the police for a previous crime. The crime in question is DreadOut’s opening scene: a group of men force a captive mother and her daughter to read an incantation from a scroll while they hold down a possessed person in the middle of a circle. The ceremony goes awry – naturally – and the film flashes forward to pick up with Linda (Caitlin Halderman), a poor high school student who works in a convenience store to save for College. She’s not exactly friends with the peers who pressure her to accompany to a tower complex, though Erik (Jefri Nichol) is kind to her and they have a flirtatious connection.
Once inside the apartment, Stamboel incorporates both a video game sensibility and some flashy camerawork. As the designated “live streamer”, Jess (Marsha Aruan) is tasked with creating engaging content and the results of her handiwork can be seen on the side of the screen where follower emojis and reactions flow. When all hell erupts in a barricaded room and the content that the teens have been faking is exchanged for real terrors, Stamboel shifts from video game feed into more dynamic camerawork, following characters as they are thrown against walls, suspended in mid-air and submerged in an eerie vortex of water in the middle of the floor.
While the kinetic energy of the film is laudable, the screenplay proves less dynamic. One of its issues is character-based: aside from Linda, none of the characters make much of an impact. Their motivations, outside of achieving viral fame, are unclear and with few, if any, other characteristics to distinguish them, Lex (Ciccio Manassero), Beni (Irsyadillah), and Dian (Susan Sameh) are simply present. The only other character who makes an impact is Jess, the resident mean girl who winds up playing a substantial role when she winds up stranded with Linda in the world on the other side of the pool. Even the film’s villain, Heri, a vengeful spirit who guards the gate, feels undercooked; she simply wants to possess the characters, imprison them and reclaim a ceremonial dagger called the Keris. Her rationale for this, however, is never addressed and aside from her enjoyable telekinetic powers, she proves to be a dull, underdeveloped antagonist.
The film’s other issue is its use of repetition. The group repeatedly travels back and forth through the vortex, and Heri’s extended 30+ minute climactic attack feels both endless and slightly onerous. An argument can be made that the repeated visual motif of Linda using her phone camera’s flash to ward off spirits and the way that characters encounter the same conflict with Heri are callbacks to the film’s video game origins. Regardless of the intent, however, the result is that the film feels derivative and mind-numbing, despite DreadOut’s relatively short 97 minute run time. Add in a narrative reluctance to kill, much less grievously harm, the majority of its characters, despite the fact that they are stock tropes, and DreadOut winds up feeling strangely toothless. Knocking off a few of the teens would have helped to raise the stakes and make the climax less of a repetitious slog.
DreadOut ultimately doesn’t break the mould for video game adaptations, though Stamboel’s visuals and the first half – when the alternate world and its powers are still new – make DreadOut extremely watchable. An overly repetitive last act, in addition to stock characters and a bland antagonist, ends the film on a sour note. There’s still enjoyment to be found in DreadOut, but on the whole, the video game adaptation is only halfway there.