“Not until you feel well do you realize how uncomfortable you used to be.”
Danish director Kristian Levring was at the forefront of Dogme 95, the so-called cinematic “vow of chastity”, and is most widely known for creating one of the movement’s signature films, The King is Alive. In his latest film, Fear Me Not, Levring has left behind those tenets to craft an unsettling, though ultimately unfocused, suspense thriller.
Ulrich Thomsen (Kingdom of Heaven), who continually carries a look of quiet intensity across his features, plays Mikael, a seemingly successful government employee with a lovely wife and teenage daughter, both of whom he loves. When he takes a sabbatical from work, boredom quickly weighs him down. On a whim, and without telling his family, he enrolls in a clinical test of an experimental anti-depressant.
Initially the results are overwhelmingly positive, and Mikael finds a new sense of peace that he never knew he needed. However, there is one noticeable side effect, the drug makes users violent. t one point an all out brawl breaks out in a clinic waiting room, and the drug is discontinued. Mikael is unwilling to stop and, having stockpiled pills, he continues to medicate himself despite the risks.
Gradually he begins to shed his inhibitions, and dark, inner desires, those feelings and emotions he has repressed and pushed down, begin to surface. These manifestations start small, like Mikael, feeling increasingly smothered by his family, goes away by himself under false pretenses. But the signs grow subtly more sinister. When the phone rings and it’s a wrong number, Mikael tells the man that his brother-in-law, the intended recipient of the call, is dead. Before long Mikael begins to psychologically torment his family, throwing his carefully manicured life into upheaval, in order to exert the dominance he now feels has been taken from him.
Fear Me Not looks and feels fantastic. Thomsen is great as Mikael, and he barely has to say or do much of anything to convey his mounting disconnection from his previous life, and Paprika Steen (The Celebration) and Emma Sehsted Hoeg are both wonderful as his tormented wife, Sigrid, and daughter, Selma. But overall the film is aimless and lost.
As Mikael becomes distanced from his world, the audience pulls back from the character. There’s nothing terribly engaging about much of the film, and nothing pulls you in for most of the middle section. Mikael’s actions create a certain tension and anxiety, but very little comes from them. The plot simply wanders around until it seems like Levring decided enough was enough. It feels like the story could ramble on forever. While there is a level of reality to this, life rarely has an arc that ties up into a neat little bow at the end, this makes a film that has a lot of potential, ultimately rather boring, more chilly than fully chilling.
An inverted retelling of Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life, adding the Hitchcockian twist where the drugs “liberate” the deep seeded desires of the father rather than driving him mad, Fear Me Not may be worth a look for the performances, but the film never quite lives up to its potential. It never really comes together.
The DVD is similarly minimal. The packaging looks nice, in the same vein as the other releases from the IFC Midnight series, but the only extra is the theatrical trailer.