Fear (2023)

JANUARY 29, 2023


I spied a poster for Fear (stylized as Fear? on the poster, and changed (?) to Don't Fear at the end of the film - more on that soon) at my AMC way back in September, assuming it was some kind of Halloween season release that escaped my attention. I then basically forgot about it until I saw it listed on their app as coming soon, and realized that in the four months in between, I had yet to hear anything else about it. Intrigued, I decided to go see it completely blind; a practice I love but rarely get to exercise outside of festivals. Like, I am stoked for Scream VI, but I know the cast, the basic plot, one or two of its surprises... and have six weeks to go before it's released, so chances are I'll know more by then. But for Fear I remained unsullied until it began playing on the screen. It was kind of exciting!

But I quickly regretted my decision, because during the credit sequence (which was actually pretty well done, admittedly) I learned that the director was none other than Dean Taylor, helmer behind some of the worst movies I saw in their respective years: Chain Letter (2010), Meet the Blacks (2016), and The Intruder (2019). I'm not quite sure how this man keeps attracting funding with a track record like that, as not only are the films not particularly successful at the box office (perhaps they clean up on video?) they're also widely hated on an Uwe Boll-ian level, so I know it's not just me. A quick perusal of his filmography on Letterboxd shows that the highest rating he's achieved so far is a 2.9, which isn't exactly a "win". Most - including Fear - fall below a 2.0, so I know it's not just me walking out his movies wondering what else I could have done with my time.

As a bonus, this one isn't just merely bad, it's also irresponsible. The plot is about a group of friends gathering at an isolated hotel/resort to celebrate one of them having a best-selling book, and we are told that everyone has properly tested beforehand (some even isolated for two weeks) to prevent a covid spread. Which is the sort of thing you'd expect if the movie took place in 2020 or even 2021 before the vaccine became easily available, but for reasons that only make sense to Herr Taylor, the film is established as being set in 2023. So why is everyone so paranoid, you might wonder? Hell, by late 2021 even the most cautious people (such as myself, vaxxed and double-boosted, thank you) were going back to life as normally as possible - I even went out of town for a festival and a few Halloween parties without much worry. So why are these folks going to the two week isolation extreme?


Because it turns out, while the title ostensibly refers to the overused concept of everyone sharing their fears (blood, cops, being in confined spaces, etc) and then being undone by it, the movie as a whole (spoiler, last chance) is one big F U to people who isolated, stayed at home for months (or still are), continue to wear their masks, etc. Early on we learn that there's a new strain of the virus that is more deadly and in the air, and thus no one should go outside for any reason, but one of the group has left her kid at home with a sitter for the weekend (hell of a sitter!) and is worried about him, so she opts to - gasp! - go outside and take her chances so that she can be with him. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone who stays behind (i.e. listens to the news and believes that it can be dangerous) gets killed, with the lone survivor (who escapes the supernatural force by also just going outside and also having faith in JESUS) finding a bunch of townsfolk just walking around normally, and her cell phone going off to show that the friend who escaped is perfectly fine.

Then there's a slam cut to the original "DON'T Fear" title and it really seems like Taylor has clear disdain for the people who holed up and didn't put themselves/others at risk in order to get brunch or a haircut. Again, the setting is 2023, but the film was actually shot in August of 2020, before the vaccine (even tests were a ways off from being easy to find), so it's unclear why they changed it when everything about the movie's setup would make much more sense if it was just set in 2020 (the recent Sick, filmed later, takes place in April of 2020 and really leans into it, so it's not like a "period piece" of 2-3 years ago is impossible). Per Taylor, the film was shot with strict covid regulations, so why the finished feature depicts a pretty cynical attitude about all the caution and rules is curious at best, but by changing it to 2023 it's easy to infer that he believes anyone still being cautious *today* is just a coward, and deserve to be murdered by our "fears" while the people who opt to just ignore the warnings will live happy and full lives. Did some folks overreact, stockpiling enough toilet paper for a decade? Absolutely. But I'll take them over the people who went around screaming about "MUH FREEDOM!" at grocery store clerks because they were asked to wear a mask. And the movie's message seems to side more with them than the TP hoarders.

It would have been the sort of thing that derailed a movie in the last few minutes (kind of like how The Devil Inside was playing just fine to my crowd until the URL at the end turned them against it), but it sucked all the way through anyway, so it was adding insult to injury as opposed to just making a last minute bad call. For starters it takes forever to get going; the "we will be undone by our fears" concept is clear at around the 30 minute mark at most, but it's over an hour before the first person is actually attacked by whatever supernatural/psychological grip the location has over them. It takes so long from the point where they all divulge their personal fears to the time that those fears come back to haunt them that you might actually forget what some of them were, and they're all poorly shoehorned into the proceedings anyway. My personal favorite is that the guy who was afraid of confined spaces isn't the one who ends up being locked in a storage closet - after spending the movie constantly getting lost in the hotel's hallways (so... why wasn't his fear being lost?) he dies when he goes into a bathroom, which I would assume is something he does every day anyway. (Ironically, his subsequent death is one of the few effective moments in the movie - go figure.)

It's also just sloppy and confusing throughout, with some plot points delivered as reveals despite the fact that we had already been given that information (some "dun dun DUNNN" music/editing choices accompany the lead telling us that the hotel was the site of some torture/sacrifices in the past, something he told the same people earlier in the movie). One character is afraid of cops because of the time he was pulled over and forced out of his car, and then near the end another character says they will call the cops, so it seems they'll show up and that'll be his undoing, right? Nope, the cops never come, but he starts going crazy anyway, and accompanying flashbacks to the source of his trauma show him stabbing the cop - is that what actually happened, or a hallucination? Hell if I know, or care. Another girl is afraid of losing her necklace (ok, fine) but her death has nothing to do with it, while also showcasing some kind of hazing gone wrong prank that wasn't clearly established beforehand. So basically, Taylor and his co-conspirators can't even stick to their lame/tired concept as they slowly (the goddamn thing is 100 minutes long) make their way to basically telling me and anyone else in the audience who wore a mask that day that we're losers.

I can give the movie credit for two (2) things. One was the aforementioned bathroom death, which involved the character repeatedly whacking their head into the sink while screaming "Let me out!" Said character was one of the few who were interesting, so having them go out in such gruesome fashion struck a tiny nerve. The other is that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this group of late 20s/early 30s friends had no dark secrets between them. I thought for sure that the lead's girlfriend (who has seemingly been neglected lately due to his career taking off) would turn out to be having an affair with one of the other friends, or that there would be some bed-hopping at the very least, but nope - everyone is pretty cool with each other outside of conflict that occurs within the narrative (i.e. one guy starts coughing, so some want to isolate him while others think it's inhumane). In a movie that steals from Evil Dead, The Shining, The Mist, and who knows what else, I have to begrudgingly respect that they had the relatively original idea for a modern horror movie to let the group of friends actually like each other for a change.

But that's, you know, not nearly enough to give this even a "OK for background noise" pass. I suspect the success of Terrifier 2 will mean seeing more indie stuff like this on the big screen as theaters look for something/anything to get butts in seats in between Marvel movies, and that's great, but I also suspect a lot of it will be really bad, like this. They won't recall that Terrifier was a viral/word of mouth hit, playing single showings to packed crowds and gradually expanding it once it was clear that people wanted to see it, as opposed to dumping it out on nearly 1,000 screens at once as they've done with this thing. So for the sake of all the good indies that deserve their shot, let's hope there aren't any movies as bad as Fear in the pipeline, and that the next chance taken by the likes of AMC is on a movie that is actually more entertaining than their endless pre-show reel and trailer collection. I'd rather watch the GD Morbius preview again than suffer through another film as insulting and inept as this.

What say you?


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