What a difference a decade makes – the wondrous representation of the highways of America as a veritable metaphor for the journey of life traveled down by Jack Kerouac in On the Road suddenly took a much more sinister turn after the unrest of the mid 1960s as epitomized in Hammer film thrillers and Roger Corman exploitation pictures of antisocial teens run amok.
And following Steven Spielberg’s still chilling, auspicious made-for-television directorial debut Duel which chronicled the horrific plight of a mild-mannered family man who’s mercilessly tailgated, stalked and nearly driven off the road by a mysterious trucker for no apparent reason, filmmakers have taken up the challenge set by these early genre masters to seek terror in everyday experiences.
The days of a stereotypical maniacal madman are long-gone, given the unsettling premise of the popular Final Destination franchise that replaced a good old fashioned villain with random objects we encounter in our daily activities thanks to a stacked deck of fate.
Additionally, the post ‘80s rise in home invasion movies (as an extension of teen slasher pictures) helped reinforce the idea we aren’t even safe in our own homes. And when you couple that with the new wave of found footage thrillers that once again capture the final moments of otherwise unsuspecting victims, it’s safe to say that the horror genre has been having a field day coming up with new twists on otherwise benign ways to scare the living daylights out of audiences.
The emphasis on empathy and realism vs. over-the-top gore in these new titles has led to both a stronger visceral and intellectual experience for filmgoers, drawing in fans that may otherwise have stayed away from traditional genre fare thanks to the way that – now more than ever before – we can identify with the characters that populate the work.
And it’s precisely this type of thinking person’s approach that helps grab In Fear’s audiences right off the bat as TV director turned filmmaker Jeremy Lovering combined all of these elements into what has become a worldwide word-of-mouth film festival smash.
An exceptionally well-made, fast-paced British indie thriller, In Fear is relatable in any language or culture. Merging home invasion with the roadway thriller subgenre and likewise using a docudrama approach as opposed to the now, slightly over-used found-footage technique popularized in The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, In Fear follows a young couple on their journey by car to an outdoor music festival in the Irish countryside.
Hoping to kickstart what he assumes will be a romantic getaway with his new girlfriend, Tom (Iain De Caestecker) books a room at an out-of-the-way inn to celebrate the two-week anniversary of his relationship with Lucy (Alice Englert). Taking him up on his offer to take things to the next level, the two leave a pub where each had had a bizarre run-in with a local behind (including the discovery of an ominous karma-laden message waiting for Lucy in the bathroom) and venture off the main roads into the country.
After getting lost in a wooded area with confusing signs that contradict one another and far too many forks in the road, the two begin to bicker amid the dodgy cell reception, sketchy surroundings and endless circle with no destination upon which they seem to be traveling.
While they begin to be taunted by an unknown adversary soon enough as Lucy finds her things scattered by the side of the road and a man in a white mask pops up right beside her beau, one tiny flaw the film has is that it gives into its title a tad too quickly.
Although as viewers, we know that Tom and Alice are in a horror movie, they shouldn’t know that… at least not right away and the rather dubiously fast way they go from irritated to full blown paranoid seems a bit far-fetched. Nonetheless, their reaction is certainly justified soon enough as the couple encounters a third character (Allen Leech) that they’re initially uncertain about in deciding whether he’s a villain or victim.
A truly riveting debut feature from the director who conceived the story along with consultant Jon Croker, this official Sundance selection which has scared audiences and movie lovers at film festivals around the globe is sure to find you talking back to your TV as though you’ve been taken along for the ride.
While it does suffer a bit from its rather abrupt finale that raises a few too many unanswered questions and echoes Tarantino’s Death Proof in spirit (albeit in a somber way), it’s hell of an achievement nonetheless from the first time helmer. Likewise it reinforces the cinematic truism that – and especially when it comes to horror – sometimes it’s better to seek inspiration from something we do on a daily basis (like drive a car) rather than unnecessarily try to reinvent and steer a brand new wheel.
In Fear’s study of fear is an ideal fit for Blu-ray in this gorgeous transfer that brightens up the night scenes with razor sharp detail. Sure to gain even greater momentum now that it can be borrowed from one film fan to another and viewed together for an eerie double or triple feature with other tales of hell on wheels from Joyride all the way back in time to Duel, In Fear will definitely make you think twice about going On the Road at night.
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