MOVIE: In Fear (2013)

infearI had never heard of this film, but picked it up the other day at the public library on a whim, in the mood for a good “lost in the woods”-type horror flick.  Hello, Halloween!  How are ya?

The good news is: it’s surprisingly entertaining and well-acted, and has a few very clever, very well-done scenes. Man, I love it when that happens!

The bad news is: the best moment comes about 20 minutes from the end and should have BEEN the end (oh, if only!), but instead the filmmaker goes on to totally wreck the awesomeness he had going and turn this from gold into. . . I don’t know. The opposite of gold, or something.  Man, I hate it when that happens!

The very first scene sucked me in right away, largely due to the acting chops of our hero, Tom, a young man who, as the story opens, is leaving a voice mail for a young lady (Lucy) he just met in a bar.  Nervously and very authentically awkwardly, he invites her to join him for a road trip to a music festival in a couple of weeks, something that ought to send any wise young lady who just met a young man in a bar screaming, frankly.

Cut to the next scene though, and it’s Tom and Lucy in a car on their way to the festival two weeks later, talking cheerfully about how the night is their “two week anniversary” (which, Lucy informs Tom, isn’t a “thing,” given what the word “anniversary” actually means. I like Lucy already; too bad she’s about to have the worst night of her entire young life. . .).

To celebrate two weeks of young love, Tom surprises Lucy by saying he’s booked a room at a fancy hotel for their first night.  Wisely hesitant for once, Lucy hems and haws a bit before giving in.  I’d love to blame her for it, but I would’ve done the same thing, largely because Tom’s undeniably a ridiculous cutie.

What I wouldn’t have done, though, is continued to give in once Tom informed me of the next huge and completely obvious red flag — that the hotel is so far out in the boonies, they’ll be sending someone on the staff to come meet them at a local pub so that person can lead them back to the utterly befuddling and off-GPS location.

Note to young ladies:  This is a thing creepy hotel proprietors, and ONLY creepy hotel proprietors, do. The rest of them give you directions on their web site.  But before Lucy can be all, “Say what, now?” a 4-Runner pulls in and honks, and Tom pulls out to follow.

Some lengthy, indeterminate amount of time later, the 4-Runner leaves them at a gate, honking again before driving off.  Tom pulls through the gate, and the rural maze to the hotel begins. The GPS in their car cuts out immediately, and the two find themselves resigned to following a series of signs pointing them left or right at multiple forks in the road.  After about an hour of driving in circles, they begin to realize they’ve been driving in circles; tension mounts.

As the night goes on, mostly what we get at first in this thoughtful little film is exactly what you’d expect from a couple that hardly knows each other now desperately lost in the dark in the middle of nowhere, watching their fuel gauge creep closer and closer to E.  The actors both handle this perfectly, and the dialogue is solid too.  They try to be kind to each other, then they fail, then they try again, then they fail again, as the stress continues to shake loose their tenuous ties to one another.

And then, stopped on the side of the road so Lucy can get her coat from the trunk, a masked man suddenly appears out of nowhere and grabs her.  Lucy manages to break free and she and Tom take off, panicked, directionless, terrified.  Suddenly, another man appears — he’s bleeding from head and tells the couple he’s just been attacked, can they help?  Lucy and Tom don’t know what to do — is he telling the truth? Is he lying?  What the hell is going on?  But he keeps railing on in terror about a bad guy in the dark, and eventually, they let him hop in the back.  He says, “We gotta get to the hotel near here so they can call a doctor for my head!” and then offers to lead them there, saying he’s very familiar with the area.

What happens next is an engaging and unique psychological thrill ride at 25mph on some dark and twisty roads, as Tom and Lucy continue to drive around with Questionable Intent Man in the back seat of their car rambling on fairly constantly so as to avoid giving them time to reconsider their very foolish plan to let him into the car.  Without giving anything away, I found the initial culmination of this situation extremely clever and wholly unexpected, and I was all set to give this little flick a serious thumbs up. . .

UNTIL! it wrecked the whole thing by veering suddenly in the most predictable of directions, followed quickly by the least predictable of directions, which I describe as “least predictable” primarily because it made no sense whatsoever.  It didn’t correspond to the bad guy’s originally stated motivations, which I found very intriguing, if not utterly cruel, and it also made no sense in terms of our victim’s ultimate reaction. Super bummer, major letdown.

Up until the disappointing ending, however, this movie really impressed me.  It features very solid acting by the two leads, if less-solid acting by Questionable Intent Man (played by Allen Leech, by the way, better known as chauffeur Tom from Downton Abbey), and a story I don’t recall ever having been told before. It’s also a nice little study both in character drama and in small-setting storytelling (almost all of it takes place in the car). I’d encourage you to shut it off when you get to the “first” ending, but you won’t be able to, is the problem.  And besides, you should see how the filmmakers totally blow it after that, because it’s an excellent lesson in filmmakers totally blowing it too.

All in all, recommended, is what I’m saying. I mean, sort of.  Sort of recommended, is what I’m saying. Definitely worth checking out. I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts about the ending, so if you do give it a gander, be sure to report back!

[DVD at Netflix | Watch online at Amazon]

Genre: Horror
Cast: Iain De Caestecker, Alice Englert, Allen Leech

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