FEAR(S) OF THE DARK (2008)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 23 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

(French with English subtitles)

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Directed by: Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti & Richard McGuire

Written by: Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre di Sciullo, Jerry Kramsky, Michael Pirus & Romain Slocombe

Starring: Aure Atika, Guillaume Depardieu, Louisa Pili, Francois Creton, Christian Hecq & Arthur H

Horror anthologies are nothing new. I’ve reviewed a number of anthologies within this Halloween season alone. However, you don’t often see animated French horror anthologies done by a number of renowned artists. I would wager that this is something out of the ordinary. FEAR(S) OF THE DARK immediately caught my attention when it was making festival rounds as a film was brimming with potential. Having seen it a number of times in the years since its VOD/limited theatrical release, I will admit that the film is far from perfect, but it’s still an ooky, spooky time all the same. Intercutting between a number of various tales and narratives told in different animation styles, FEAR(S) is likely to be enjoyed most by those who don’t mind a artsier take on horror. I’ll grade the five stories individually and then give my overall thoughts to the film as a whole…

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Story 1: The first story is sprinkled in-between the four later tales. A creepy, crooked toothed baron takes a number of vicious hounds for a walk. As he encounters various people, he lets his monstrous, bloodthirsty dogs off their chains. This story is simple and by-the-numbers, but it’s all in the execution (pardon the pun). Never overstaying its welcome and lovingly crafted with a distinct charcoal look, this segment is memorable and the second-best of the bunch. A-

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Story 2: The second tale follows an awkward young man who’s obsessed with insects. Though he’s finding it difficult to adjust to college life, the nerdy introvert strikes up a romance with a strange young woman. The two hit it off in style, but things begin to take a turn for the horrific when she gets bit by a mysterious bug and begins to change (both in attitude and appearance). This computer animated segment almost seems a little unfinished in both its story and in the actual animation. There are cool ideas and a number of weird visuals, but this is a bit of a disappointment seeing that it’s from Charles Burns, the madman who brought us the acclaimed BLACK HOLE. B-

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Story 3: The third story is a significant step up from the second. A Japanese girl is strapped to a hospital bed and slips in and out of consciousness. A weird doctor keeps injecting her with shots in order to get her to “finish” a nightmare that seems to be traumatizing her. It all serves as an excuse for an appropriate use of nightmare logic and strange scenes that don’t make any real sense, but come off as creepy nonetheless. So while there isn’t exactly much of a plot aside from nightmare sequences involving a ghostly samurai and strange oddities, I really enjoyed this segment. B+

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Story 4: This fourth story is easily the weakest of the five tales. It’s narrated by an adult who relates his past experience wherein a man-eating monster plagued the outskirts of his village. The beast cost the lives of two people close to him, before eventually being captured. While the animation has a dark beauty to it, I couldn’t help but feel that the lackluster plot really weighed this segment down. It just comes and goes without leaving much of an impression. C

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Story 5: FEAR(S) goes out with its best story as this fifth tale is a dialogue-free nightmare come to life. Lost in the middle of a snow storm, a man takes shelter in a creepy old house. Thanks to a lack of light and a disturbing scrap-book, he discovers that the house may have a dark history. Soon enough, he’s hallucinating and finds himself possibly facing a fate worse than anything he could have expected. This animation style makes really great use of the black and white coloring. We get a sense that something scary could be hiding around every corner and all of the visuals are pulled off flawlessly. This story builds a mounting sense of dread and even an arguable jump scare (which is something you wouldn’t expect of any animated movie). Out of all the stories told here, this is the only one that I would say actually scared me. A+

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Aside from the creepy baron and his dogs, all of these segments are introduced by annoying abstract shapes with pretentious narration. In these small bits (which combined make up about five minutes of running time), a French woman laments that she’s afraid of rather silly things (indigestion, lack of respect from youth, being a conservative and a democrat, and being mediocre). It is here that FEAR(S) becomes a bit too artsy fartsy, but the stories are where the focus is mainly set. I highly recommend checking out FEAR(S) OF THE DARK if you’re looking for a horror anthology that’s very out of the ordinary.

Grade: B+

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