The UK production In Fear might be one of the most relentless horror films I have ever sat through. I do not mean that as a compliment. Whereas some horror and suspense thrillers are perfectly capable of creating environments and characters that can make such unwavering terror something entertaining, visceral, thoughtful or terrifying, In Fear is just a film where director Jeremy Lovering can simply show off for 85 unconscionable minutes, keeping things cranked to 11 in every possible way so whatever style he employs – regardless of how competently handled it is on a technical level – becomes an absolute ungodly boring chore to sit through.
Tom (Ian de Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert) have only been dating for two weeks when they decide to head off to Ireland to head to a music festival. Rather than go directly to meet their friends to camp out, Tom has seen to booking a room at a quaint, rural hotel that he found on the internet. After following “a guy” who is supposed to show them where their off the beaten path getaway is supposed to take place, their faceless guide takes off and they become hopelessly lost, driving and circles and getting frustrated with each other and themselves. It’s not too long until they discover that someone is messing them, getting them even more lost, and tormenting them. Is it the band of riled up townies from the pub who took offense to a knocked over pint? A mysterious bloodied man in the woods (Allen Leech) begging for help?
Well, really there are only two options and the answer is painfully obvious even before the options are presented. The biggest problem is that while there is a lot going on in Lovering’s debut theatrical film (he’s made quite a bit of television in the UK, including the Season 3 opener for Sherlock) there isn’t a lick of storytelling on display. A quick look at the credits shows that the film didn’t even have a writer. Briefly I thought, “That makes sense because this is so bad they probably wanted their name taken off of it.” Instead, I had to go and look at the poster for the film to discern that Lovering gets a story credit before finding out in an interview that there was no script.
Here’s the problem with that: when a filmmaker is trying to make a claustrophobic thriller set in an isolated location with little to no hope of contacting the outside world, there has to be more structure to it beyond this film’s dreadfully simplistic and botched three acts. The first act of this film is all about set-up, which is dull. The second act is the feeling out stage with the stranger that they meet, which is slightly better but has already been telegraphed since about ten minutes into the film. The third act is just a trainwreck, with a logical and satisfying conclusion coming at about the 65 minute mark before descending into thoroughly ludicrous, unexplained implausibility that finds a way to even cop out on how ludicrous it is… twice. It feels like the actors were given no direction at all, which in some cases can be okay, but it’s also like they weren’t told anything about their characters. They’re just blank slates looking scared. There are actual moments where it seems like they don’t know what else to do so they just start shouting, or they go the opposite route and clam up so tight that the grating musical score has to somehow compensate. It’s exhausting and boring in equal measure.
Clearly, Lovering finds himself influenced by the same UK and Aussie horror movement that James Watkins’ Eden Lake and Greg Mclean’s Wolf Creek films belong to: terrified, sheltered people in a strange land terrorized by people who don’t want them there. But while those films are able to offer something interesting for all of their stylized intensity (genuinely likeable characters in the former and an exemplary villain in the latter) Lovering can’t do anything besides being very, very loud. After only ten minutes, the bass heavy musical score and the somehow even heavier low-end mixing of just how the car sounds feels like being shouted at while trapped in a car. Maybe that’s the point, but when the characters aren’t doing anything at all, the foreboding isn’t necessary. What’s even worse is that the style and template doesn’t even change once the scares start. It just starts raining to add more noise to mask that nothing even remotely thrilling is happening. This is the kind of film where just the sound of someone taking a piss twenty feet from the camera sounds like an army’s worth of rainsticks being turned upside down right next to your eardrum.
But what’s worst about it is within the film’s ear shattering sound, slick close-ups, and ambitious camera movements lies a degree of competency. In Fear is a great looking and (I guess) good sounding film. It’s even well acted, particularly by Caestecker, who seems to be trying desperately to add some depth. Even the usually very reliable Englert is good, but she has nothing at all to do until the final ten minutes of the film except to scream her boyfriend’s name over and over again whenever he might be in trouble. (Yes, it is one of those movies, and yes these people are too stupid to have even made it as far as they do, surviving for so long only because the villain is somehow a bigger idiot.)
The fact that Lovering can so beautifully shoot the films action sequences and somehow at least make two people sitting in a car and doing nothing look good and feel somewhat kinetic is an accomplishment. It might even be enough to convince very easily amused viewers into thinking they are seeing something exciting. But if you like your thrillers and horror films to have at least one thing worth hanging all the mayhem on – the kinds of things you can only get in a script – In Fear is about as dreadful as it gets. It has literally spent the entire budget it cost to make it on sound, lighting, and talent, but it couldn’t be bothered to shell out a nickel for a better idea.