In Fear (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
Despite having met only a week ago, Tom (Iain De Caestecker) phones Lucy (Alice Englert) and awkwardly invites her to attend a music festival in Ireland. He seems to be a nice guy so she accepts and the two go on a road trip that will mostly take an entire day. Although the plan is to meet with friends at the music festival, after taking a restroom break at a pub, Tom smoothly reveals to the girl he likes that he has booked a hotel. Lucy is not entirely opposed to the idea. While on the way to the hotel, however, they end up getting lost and driving in circles for hours. It is obvious that someone has messed with the signs on the road—difficult enough to navigate through due to the many narrow roads and lack of landmarks.
Written and directed by Jeremy Lovering, “In Fear” has a standard but consistently strong first half that is derailed by an increasingly frustrating and unbelievable latter forty-five minutes. What results is a tolerable but underwhelming horror-thriller which should have been more suspenseful and enjoyable if the writer-director had taken the time and effort to focus the events on what it means to want to survive in a situation where there are not a lot of viable options.
The setup sounds cheap and ridiculous—two young people who do not know each other very well, or at all, going on a trip that involves sitting in a cramped space for hours—but I found, to my surprise, that I was into it hook, line, and sinker. The magic is in the casting. De Caestecker is incredibly charming in playing a guy who is a little bit desperate, somewhat of a geek but trying to come off cool or impressive, but he means well and genuinely wants the person he has sights on to have a really good time. Englert is also quite wonderful in playing a girl who wants to be wanted but her approach is not lewdness. Her character is shy but it is easy to tell that she knows who she is so there is a strength to her.
When it comes to movies like this, it is crucial that we understand the motivations. It is an element that separates a horror movie which exists only so that the audience can watch young people get sliced and diced versus a horror picture that cares to tell a small story that happens to have bloodshed in it. Clearly, Lovering’s film embodies the latter. We understand why Tom and Lucy are drawn to one another. We root for them to make it through the night of impossible trials.
The camerawork puts us into the alert and paranoid mindset of the two protagonists. We feel like we are in that car with them. For instance, a synergy is reached between shots of narrow roads as the car glides forward and close-ups of increasingly worried faces. The way the camera lingers an extra beat or two—from the perspective of both the driver and the front passenger—on the barely paved road gives the impression that someone might jump out from the side at any second. When the focus is on a face, especially in profile, our eyes slowly move to the background—the window—in anticipation.
Once the villain, or villains, is revealed, one gets the impression that there is no mystery left in the canister, Thus, the picture is less engaging and it is reduced to a waiting game to see if one character will manage to outsmart the other. The final twenty minutes or so appears to bring up the subject of what drives violence. Is one’s proclivity toward it innate, learned, or is it somewhere in between? The question and answers are never explored. The final shot left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was very disappointing because it fails to strive for something that feels right for the material. Instead, we are handed a standard and cheap way to end a movie that starts off well.