In Fear lacks the blood and gore of the Saw variety that so many horror fans shell out upwards of 15 bucks for (depending upon where your local cineplex is located). The first half of the film is so relatable, viewers can probably recall having found themselves in a similar situation. If only it didn’t dissolve into an almost indecipherable mess. It feels like there’s a message about the randomness of violence buried in there somewhere, but the bad guy turns out to be too calculating to fully support its thesis.
Tom (Iain De Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert) are a young couple on their way to a music festival. Unbeknownst to Lucy, Tom has made hotel reservations presumably so the new couple can take their relationship to the next level. Being strangers in a strange land, the landscape changes from expansive fields and a bright sky into narrow curved roads and darkness punctuated only by the car’s headlights. Almost all of the action takes place in the confines of a small car, Tom and Lucy’s oasis from a malignant force that manages to be everywhere.
It’s almost implausible in the age of GPS and cell phones that anyone could get lost and cut off from civilization. Here, however, the setting is in rural Ireland, the perfect storm of a malfunctioning navigational system, no cell phone reception and of course, a dwindling amount of fuel in the car.
There are warning signs that their first night together is going to be far from idyllic, but it takes the couple awhile to figure out that there are sinister forces at work. Their amusement at finding themselves traveling in circles slowly turns into frustration.
In Fear partly works because Tom and Lucy are still be feeling each other out. Their true personalities are exposed to one another as the stress and fear mount. They vacillate between working together, a source of comfort and familiarity in the midst of chaos, to turning on each other.
Tom and Lucy struggle to figure out why they’ve been targeted, by whom, and what their tormentor’s endgame is. Doesn’t every bad guy have some motive? Even supernatural entities seem to have agendas these days. Lucy is convinced that Tom is holding back information about a run in he had with some locals at a pub earlier in the day. Tom thinks Lucy’s flirtation with the bartender is a factor.
Focusing their attention on the why of their situation gives them something to do. It’s as if they can pinpoint the catalyst, their predicament will start to make sense. But Tom and Lucy aren’t special. It could have been any unsuspecting pair, and that’s what makes In Fear scary.
As Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood illustrated to small town residents everywhere that violent crime wasn’t restricted to the big city, In Fear simply reinforces what we see on the news every day: random shootings, kidnappings, rapes and murder. Some people are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even just a random glance can lead to obsession. In Tom and Lucy’s case, it all boils down to a hotel reservation made over the internet.
Everything carefully constructed in the first part of the film starts to crumble when Lucy and Tom run into Max (Allen Leech). If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, you’ll recognize him immediately as the late Lady Sybil’s husband, Tom. His round cherubic face doesn’t scream sinister, and maybe that’s the point. We like to believe crazy people are easily identifiable.
Max begins to mind f**k the twosome, with Lucy bearing the brunt of his psychological torture and Tom the physical. We get that Max is disturbed, probably since childhood, but that’s the extent of his character development. How many people he’s managed to lure to this remote area prior to this is unknown.
In Fear is only predictable in the sense that you know Tom and Lucy aren’t going to wind up safe and secure in a quaint hotel room. And unlike a chainsaw wielding inbred, Max is able to do quite a bit of damage with very little. The movie starts strong, but swerves off course and meanders endlessly—just like Tom and Lucy. And also like Tom and Lucy, it eventually runs out of gas.
The entirety of the special features is a behind the scenes featurette.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
"PopMatters (est. 1999) is a respected source for smart long-form reading on a wide range of topics in culture. PopMatters serves as…READ the article