i n f e a r
15th November 2013
A Vauxhall Astra
4th November 2013
We all like to be scared. It’s one of the joys of cinema. I am not though, a big fan of gore. It’s some sort of psychological issue that sees me laid out in the corridor outside the screening, with people staring at me trying to work out whether they need to call a cab or an ambulance. But, I did witness the re-release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre after the new, revamped BBFC passed it. And it was some of the most skin-crawlingly terrifying cinema I have ever seen. But it’s not the scariest film I’ve ever seen. When it comes to all out head-messing terror, I constantly return to The Haunting (1963). A truly old fashioned exercise in fear, it is the benchmark for me. That review is another story (check out our Hallow’een feature for a mini-review), this review concerns In Fear.
We didn’t see much at Sundance this year on account of jobs and family intruding but when I trawled the festival listings, In Fear stood out. It looked like a much needed return to a more psychologically nasty way of making scary movies, moving away from the recent trends of technology induced torture and voyuerism. This is a very good thing. In Fear sadly, is less so.
There is a lot to admire about the film. Its setup is fantastic because, on paper at least, it’s entirely believable - a couple head off to a remote retreat and as night closes in, soon start to realise that something is amiss with the signposting and they are being deliberately sent around in circles by something.
In truth, it’s difficult to review this movie without wrecking too much of it through plot spoilers but I’ll be as careful as I can. The problem I have is that, like a lot of scary movies, the plot is less than watertight and I found myself picking at it as we went along because I could not get on with the main characters. I really didn’t understand the decision to present the central couple as only having been together for two weeks. Why? It adds a small amount to the tension in the car because they are somewhat suspicious of each other but it left me feeling alienated from them because I had nothing invested in them. The parts are acted well enough but shorn of any backstory or context for their relationship, why do I care if one or both of them expire in the forest?
This central issue led me to really question their decision making. I know we generally have to put this thing to one side (the only really amusing part of Scary Movie is the fact that when faced with a killer in the house, the heroine always, always heads upstairs, thus cutting off her only route of escape) but when you have no investment in the characters, the mere fact that they never once just drive back the way they came, really grates. Likewise getting out of the car to walk into the woods to do what exactly? Will that make it easier to work out where you are? Drinking and driving? Really? There are other, more painful incidents of illogical (even in the context of being terrified) decision making that I can’t discuss due to the spoiler nature of them but suffice to say, I was forced to raise my eyes to the ceiling more than once. In places the film seems to think about descending into a sort of Hostel / Deliverance style fit of terrible violence but it swerves away.
There are positives. The cinematography is a wonderful example of creeping dread using nothing more than overhanging bare trees framed against a darkening grey sky. And for the first couple of laps around the wild-goose chase, it’s actually pretty tense. The interior of a Vauxhall has never seemed more claustrophobic and one scene, when the heroine leans into the car is genuinely squirm inducing. Sadly the filmmakers seem to think that scares can be brought about merely by very LOUD grinding music. Well, music isn’t really the right word. More of a loud, low dirge of a noise. If that makes sense. Doesn’t matter, it’s not scary.
The Sundance Festival blurb for In Fear mentions the film transcending the horror genre. Well, maybe it did and maybe I’m not bright enough to follow that. Maybe I missed the point of it all. but having gone in determined to like this film because I want horror to return to how this looked on paper, I came out spectacularly disappointed. The characters grate, their decisions should qualify them for a Darwin award, the setup is strained to within an inch of its life and the whole thing could have been avoided by thirty seconds on Trip Advisor.
But that’s not to say I don’t want you to see this film. In fact, I kind of do want you to see it so you can explain to me why I’m wrong about it. That’s how much I want to see properly scary, bare-bones horror films made again. Remember The Orphanage from a few years back (2007)? THAT. I want to see another masterpiece of horror like that. In Fear isn’t in the same league for me, not by a long way. And that made me sad.
Check out the trailer here.