We can never really know the truth behind another person’s eyes. Even friends and lovers who’ve shared laughs and beds for decades and think they know it all will never be completely aware of each other’s inner thoughts. So where does that leave a new couple still fumbling with the other’s strengths, weaknesses and behaviors? And what happens when that still fresh couple are dropped into an uncertain and terrifying situation?
Tom (Iain de Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert) only met two weeks ago, but the two hit it off well enough that when he asks her to join him for a road trip to a music festival she accepts with only the slightest hesitation. The plan is to meet other friends and camp the night before the fest begins, but cheeky bastard Tom surprises her with a hotel reservation in the Irish countryside.
As the hours wear on they find themselves driving in circles, befuddled by seemingly contradictory hotel signs and growing more tense by the minute. Soon irrational fears become concrete as they find themselves targeted by one or more menacing but briefly glimpsed strangers. When it comes to loyalty and trust, where does the line between uncertainty and liability start?
Jeremy Loverling‘s In Fear begins with a simple but strong enough premise by placing two near strangers in a car and sending them out into the unknown. When oddly menacing events first begin, their suspicions are aimed outward, but the seeds of a genuine mistrust have been planted. Their last stop at a pub before it all begins ended with the pair rushing out to the car, but what exactly happened inside becomes a variable that neither party can know. Did Tom do something to provoke a local? Did Lucy not do something?
The awkward fumblings and sweet moments that make up the early stages of a relationship are in full bore before everything starts to crumble, and the film works well during these innocent stages just as it does during the more conflict-oriented events that come later. We can’t help but wonder not only how we would react in a situation like this but how our husband or girlfriend would as well. Would they act to save us? Would you act to save them?
The issue that drags the film down considerably, though, is one that often affects tight, single-location thrillers. The characters act with utter and complete stupidity.
They separate, they leave keys in the car and walk away, they let pride (and in Tom’s case his masculinity) get in the way of common sense and by the third act they’ve made the most irresponsible and idiotic decision possible. For every moment of terror or suspense there are ten more bone-headed and severely frustrating actions to deflate it all. It’s a shame, too, as Loverling manages some truly eerie and captivating shots by taking advantage of the foreboding geography and staging some frightening scenarios. While some of the scares are goosed with audio cues via the score, there are also some that work beautifully using situational sounds only.
Englert and de Caestecker both give solid performances, although he’s tethered by being the main motivator behind many of the worst decisions. Engerling stands out the most with a performance that balances and delivers genuine affection, doubt and terror.
In Fear is a definite mixed bag. It offers some thrills only to see them washed away by questionable choices. It owes a debt to the recent (and underseen) Retreat as well as Kim Sung-hong’s near identically-set Say Yes. All three films tread very similar waters and are worth watching, but it’s the Cillian Murphy-starrer that fares the best.
The Upside: Fantastic use of sound; some genuine scares; Alice Englert is quite good
The Downside: Too many frustrating actions made by the two leads
On the Side: The actors were only made aware of their characters and the initial setup with the intention that their reactions to outside events would be more genuine