By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Joseph Sikora, Andrew Bachelor and Annie Ilonzeh
Directed by Deon Taylor
Written by Deon Taylor and John Ferry
Hidden Empire Film Group
“I feel like we’re in GET OUT right now,” a character says early on in FEAR. He only wishes.
FEAR comes from African-American director/co-writer Deon Taylor and features a mixed-race cast, but otherwise actually has nothing in common with Jordan Peele’s modern classic. This is not an examination of socioracial issues through a genre lens, but a pandemic-era horror drama shot two and a half years ago, when COVID was at its worst, as DON’T FEAR (a title maintained at the movie’s end). It’s also a story of a group of people having their worst terrors turned against them–a premise that has been done about 327 times before, as has a great deal else about FEAR.
For example: Our central couple Rom (Joseph Sikora) and Bianca (Annie Ilonzeh) are first met driving to a weekend getaway; he’s got something he wants to ask her, she’s got something she needs to tell him, and if you don’t know what either of these are, you may not have seen a movie in the last 30 years. Upon arrival at the expansive Strawberry Lodge in the California mountains, they are greeted by a large group of friends, plus the place’s unsubtly named, weird-acting overseer Mrs. Wenrich (Michele McCormick). “We like to memorialize all who stay with us,” she says as she snaps photos of everyone. “That way they never leave.” The pals don’t seem too unnerved by this, perhaps because they’re happy to be making an escape from lockdown, having all tested before making the trip–though Lou (Tip “T.I.” Harris) has a suspicious cough.
Throughout the movie, in fact, Taylor can’t seem to figure out what kind of fears he wants to focus on: the very modern anxieties engendered by the pandemic or the more prosaic kinds to be exploited by supernatural agents. The latter at first seem to be the focus as Rom starts digging into legends of witchcraft surrounding the lodge, and when the gang sits around a campfire the first night, they each take a turn revealing what scares them the most. The idea that this might be a coping mechanism in the face of the lethal disease isn’t explored; it’s just the necessary exposition to set up their fates later. Yet when the movie finally gets around to paying them off (much) later, there’s little weight to it because the characters are so undefined, it’s hard to even remember who had which fear.
In the meantime, they get word of a new contagion spreading across the land that could make even going outside a life-or-death risk, and tensions rise as the friends try to figure out how to deal with it. Some of their actions don’t make sense (when they decide they have to quarantine the apparently contagious Lou in the basement, nobody masks up to escort him there), and little of this feels fresh on a narrative level, with echoes of THE MIST among others. Neither do Taylor’s shiver tactics when the occult comes into play, which include the distant laughter of children, a Victrola playing old records with eerie vintage songs on them and the sickly color schemes of Chris Duskin’s cinematography. Once the characters start getting bumped off, Taylor throws in a punishment-for-past-sins element as well, which only muddies the water–and that’s a pretty good description of what the CGI swirling around the film’s spectral sorceress looks like as well.
FEAR would dearly love to be an examination of how we as human beings deal with the titular emotion, but the pedantic approach and lack of focus work against that ambition. And the ultimate message, as espoused by Rom, is that the way to deal with fear is to stop letting it affect you, and ignore its source–a dubious message at best to apply to a COVID-based situation. After this and Taylor’s previous underwhelmers like TRAFFIK and CHAIN LETTER, the only real fear you’re left with is for the state of the BLACULA remake that the filmmaker has coming up.