Fear (1996)

NOVEMBER 19, 2012


I'm doing another Chiller special soon, and without spoiling the topic (hasn't been announced yet), Fear is one of the movies on the list. At first I was kind of confused, since I always thought it was a straight up PG-13 thriller about a girl with a violent jerk for a boyfriend, but then I discovered that it was actually R rated for "Strong graphic violence and terror", and IMDb even lists it as a horror film (plus it was recommended by HMAD reader Keith a while ago - shoulda listened!). So I could kill two birds with one stone - watching one of the films for the list (most of which I had seen), and getting in my daily "new" horror flick.

As it turns out, it's not a great film, but it's well-made and entertaining enough, without much time wasted, and a fine reminder that Reese Witherspoon was much more enjoyable in her early years, before every movie had to be about two guys fighting over her. What struck me most is that it really earns its R rating - Mark Wahlberg fingers the young future Oscar winner, snaps a dude's neck, more or less rapes Alyssa Milano... plus drops the F bomb with some frequency (I always thought his "SO LET ME IN THE FUCKIN' HOUSE!" was the one time use, again, thinking this was a PG-13 movie).

It also works in the film's rather tense finale, as it takes on a sort of home invasion scenario as Wahlberg and his punk friends terrorize Reese and her family (plus Milano) at their typically ridiculous, state of the art "secure" home, which has such niceties as a keypad entry with the complicated code of 1-4-3-2. And you gotta hand it to the script by Christopher Crowe - the first dead bad guy is courtesy of the family's young son, who runs one of them over as he tries to escape in the family car. But also, there's an odd benefit to the casting of William Petersen as the dad - Wahlberg keeps threatening to shoot him in the head, and holds the gun to Petersen's noggin enough times to make us think he will do it, because after all, it wouldn't be the first movie to shock us by blowing ol' Bill's head off.

Until then it's kind of the usual sort of Play Misty For Me/Fatal Attraction type thriller, albeit with the roles reversed from those. "At first he seems so perfect, but then..." To be fair, they don't waste a lot of time proving to us that he's crazy - we're only about 30 minutes into the movie when he beats the shit out of Reese's male friend after mistaking a friendly hug for something romantic. But they had to get there early for a puzzling, not very successful "twist" of sorts - after avoiding him for a few days because of this, she goes back to him, seemingly just to piss off her dad. So there's an odd break in the tension, because now we just have to twiddle our thumbs as things seem perfect again, because we know that won't happen. I mean, hell, we knew he wasn't perfect as soon as the movie started, but we can accept the usual buildup - it's bizarre to have to go through it again.

They also fail to capitalize on their R rating in one respect - Milano's character lives. I had no doubt that the family unit would remain intact (with Petersen as the wild card), so I figured the only reason she was even there was to raise the stakes a bit during the finale. But alas, she's just sort of hanging out in the background for the bulk of it; even when she interferes with one of the thugs she just takes a hit and is once again ignored. Come on, even the When A Stranger Calls remake had the stones to kill off the slutty friend! You OWE us this!

As for Wahlberg, he's fine. It's so hard to take him serious as an actor because of his rap background and questionable career choices - I think he's best used in more comedic roles like Big Hit or Ted (or even Boogie Nights); even though I know he can kick my ass without breaking a sweat, I just have trouble getting around the goofier parts of his career when he's supposed to be a dangerous character. It doesn't help that the movie has some terribly half-assed moments, like his instantly blood-free chest when he does the "NICOLE 4 EVA" tattoo on himself.

But the biggest hurdle for a modern audience would be its occasional "timely" jokes (I had to momentarily rack my brain to remember what "Cane me in Singapore!" was supposed to mean) and overly 90s soundtrack, which gives us not one but TWO Bush songs, one of which ("Comedown") is actually used twice. As is The Sundays' cover of "Wild Horses", and some Toad The Wet Sprocket for good measure. However, the score might not seem too dated at all, and I realized something spectacularly awesome about it around the halfway point. See, I couldn't help but feel I had heard it before, but it wasn't until I looked up the composer that it came together. The score was composed by Carter Burwell, and those cues seemed familiar because I had just heard them (again) in Breaking Dawn Part 2, his third Twi-film. Now, I quite like his work, but I admit he does have a certain "sound" and thus some of his scores do sound alike. But even on that level, his Twilight themes were almost direct lifts from this, and thus I'd like to think that this was an intentional little joke on his part - I'm certainly not the first to suggest that Edward was more of a psychotic stalker than boyfriend, much like David is here. I would love for Burwell to admit that he was making a very subtle joke about Edward and Bella's "love" with his choice of music, but I'd be satisfied knowing that anyone else made the connection.

Compared to many 90s horror/thrillers, particularly those surrounding teens, it holds up well. With so many that followed (Swimfan comes to mind) being PG-13, it's refreshing to see one where the "dangerous" person actually comes across as a real threat, and except for that 2nd act slowdown the pacing finds the right balance between letting us understand why Reese would care about this guy and getting to the point. And even if you hate the 90 minutes preceding it, Wahlberg's final moments are pure bliss, and the movie has a Hammer ending - as soon as the threat is out of the way, the movie ends. I can definitely dig that sort of efficiency.

What say you?


  1. Ha ha, I saw this one in the movie theater, and by stinkum, I think I'd forgotten all about it before I passed the popcorn stand on my way out the door!

  2. (singing off key) 'Cause I don't wanna come back down from this cloud...

    What? I still like '90s rock. Don't mock me.

    1. ...it's taken me all this time to find out what I need- yeah, yeah, YEAH!


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