Hot Docs 2016: Fear Itself Review


Oddly hypnotic and fascinating, Fear Itself is the second compilation essay film by director Charlie Lyne, following his bizarrely entertaining exploration of teen movie culture Beyond Clueless. This time Lyne’s subject is horror movies and how their unique rhythms and themes explore the nature of fear within our culture. It’s certainly a subject that’s been examined before and one that Lyne doesn’t have a particularly unique thesis to explore. However, there’s something about the craft of the project that works far better than one might expect. In addition to dabbling into the appeal, craft, and purpose of the genre, Lyne creates a genuinely unsettling montage of clips that should leave viewers unnerved while tickling their minds. 

Lyne piles together clips of everything from M to Jaws and It Follows, encompassing the entire history of genre in all of it’s obscure, popular, old, and new forms. The thing is that the filmmaker doesn’t typically focus on the most obvious highlights and jump scares, instead compiling a collection of creepy set up sequences from titles as varied as Suspiria and Elephant with few moments of payoff in sight. The cumulative affect of the feature length montage is impressive, keeping viewers perpetually on edge and curious. Over that parade of creepy images, Lyne uses a single voiceover from an unknown woman (Amy E Watson) to explore the clips at hand, the nature of fear, and a peculiar backstory that slowly builds into a little spooky tale of it’s own.

It’s an admirable effort from the filmmaker who seems to be slowly building a style  of cinematic essay all its own. Yet while Beyond Clueless seemed to grow into a satisfyingly strange exploration of how all high school movies seems to exist in a single universe, Fear Itself ultimately ends up being little more than a pretty standard academic exploration of the appeal of horror movies that syncs up to a creepily effective montage. It’s hard to imagine anyone walking out of the theater feeling they’d learned something new aside from the existence of a few horror flicks that they’d never seen before (Lyne was kind enough to name them all onscreen). Yet at least Lyne has managed to make an essay film about horror flicks that is if not outright scary, at least effectively unnerving. That’s an interesting and unique achievement in and of itself. 


Sunday, May 1, 10pm, Lightbox 3

Tuesday, May 3, 3:45pm Lightbox 3

Wednesday. May 4, 9:45pm, Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

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