MARCH 9, 2014
It's a good thing In Fear had a making of that explained that the bulk of the movie was improvised, because otherwise this entire review would be based on my belief that this had a lousy script. There are some terrific little set-pieces in the movie, but overall it's a repetitive rehash of a few other films (Dead End, The Hitcher, Ils...) with a dumb reveal I'll get into later. It's a fine technical exercise (the majority of the movie is in the car) and the two leads aren't as obnoxious as some folks tend to get in such things, but is that enough?
For me, no. I mean, I was engaged for the first 40 minutes or so, enjoying the simple but effective tale of a couple (Tom and Lucy) driving to a hotel that is off their GPS, with their map being useless and the signs pointing to the hotel seemingly sending them in circles. But after a while it became clear that there wasn't really much to it beyond what we already saw, and my interest kept dwindling. They also blow their "running low on gas" wad way too soon - the light comes on relatively early, and they keep driving and driving without it ever really being an issue. At one point they pull over because they're supposedly just about out, but then something comes up and they drive more! Later the killer actually puts a can of gas in the car for them (heh), but by then they had already strained credibility far too much for a movie that's borderline documentary.
See, as we learn on the making of, there was no real script, just a basic outline. The film was shot chronologically, and the actors didn't know when they'd be pulled out (sort of like Blair Witch, but thankfully without the POV aspect). Director/story-writer Jeremy Lovering even tells of an incident where they got a flat tire and stayed in character as they made an attempt to fix it, assuming it was something that was set up - but it was an honest, unplanned accident. That's kind of a fascinating way to make a horror movie, and perhaps with a bit more of a structure (or more characters) it would work better. Alas, this scene isn't even in the movie anyway - instead we mostly get the two of them driving in circles as we in the audience wait for the next legit scare scene.
The scares are of the Michael Myers' stalking variety - their tormentor plays tricks on them (setting off the car alarm when they get out for a bit - watching the movie late at night as I did, this one was a good jolt) and sticks to the background. In my favorite bit, Tom (played by Fitz from Agents of SHIELD) goes out to take a leak and the killer starts approaching him, only to turn and recede into the darkness when spotted by Lucy. And he makes an aggressive move much quicker than I expected, so that provided another good scare. Alas, it all falls apart soon after that - skip the next paragraph if you don't want anything about the villain spoiled!
A few minutes later, they hit a guy in the road, and he claims to have been previously attacked by the same guy who is after them. If you've ever seen a movie before (even like, Toy Story or something would suffice) you'll know that he's lying and is in fact the bad guy (a real twist would be that he was telling the truth). No more kind of creepy white mask, no more stalking - just the usual mind games that lack any real weight since there's not much to the movie or the characters he's tormenting anyway. There's some incident at a pub that keeps coming up, and the full explanation isn't worth the wait - though it's still an improvement over the reason that they kept going in circles: the bad guy was swapping the signs around! I'm sorry, but most people have an innate sense of direction that should prevent this kind of thing from happening more than once, so I don't buy it. Plus at one point they give up looking for the hotel and decide to drive back to town and STILL end up returning to the same spot multiple times! All signs point to a supernatural explanation, so this was a letdown (a rare occasion where I wish they were ripping off Carnival of Souls again).
It's a bummer. This is the sort of movie that could have been a classic if the third act had delivered, but it just crumbles at that crucial moment, and what Lucy finds at the hotel seems way too elaborate for anything less than a full team of rich geniuses (which this movie doesn't have). I don't know if their improv skills just weren't up to the task or if Lovering didn't have a good idea for the finale to begin with, but either way it just didn't work for me. The Halloween/Strangers fan in me really dug the idea of a stalker/home invasion type scenario in a car, but I can't walk away satisfied from a movie just because the first 40 minutes were hitting my sweet spot. I'd be open to seeing Lovering (or anyone) taking this approach to another film, however - and again, kudos to them for doing something in a documentary fashion but without resorting to found footage. There's hope yet!
What say you?