“Fear” review: COVID horror over the top
Deon Taylor is a fascinating personality who carved his own path as a black filmmaker in Hollywood, independently producing and now distributing his films. He also seems to be single-handedly keeping the mid-budget adult thriller alive (see: The Intruder, Black and Blue, Traffic). He has a consistent focus on the craft of filmmaking, but is also obsessed with catering to a multicultural audience that is largely underserved by certain parts of the industry. A global pandemic certainly wouldn’t undo his mission, and in his latest film, the horror film Fear, Taylor takes on the pandemic head-on, using our collective fears as grist to his storytelling mill.
“Fear” is a COVID film and contagion film and haunted house story rolled into 100 feverishly stylized minutes. Joseph Sikora stars as horror novelist Rom, who takes his girlfriend Bianca (Annie Ilonzeh) on a weekend trip to Northern California to recover from the pandemic. They arrive at the rustic Strawberry Lodge and when he is about to propose to her, he pales and hesitates, instead revealing that he invited her group of friends to celebrate Bianca’s birthday. You’ll have the lodge to yourself for the weekend, and seriously, don’t worry about the incredibly creepy innkeeper who leaves you a horrible bottle of wine, or the detailed stories Rom tells about the miners who tortured indigenous women and have killed witches. No, nothing at all to worry about.
As the friends confess their phobias around the campfire as a means of catharsis, the story unfolds in all directions. There’s the fear of contagion and paranoia that sets in, especially after a news report about a new variant and as Lou (rapper TI) becomes increasingly ill. The Brujas of Fear take over their thoughts when it becomes clear that Rom has combined his book research with his weekend getaway. But do these friends get caught up in their own fear, or do the brujas do, because that’s an important difference.
“Fear” relies on craftsmanship to create atmosphere and suspense – the sickly greenish handheld cinematography by Christopher Duskin, the pounding score by Geoff Zanelli and the impeccable sound design. But Taylor and John Ferry’s screenplay proves that it’s possible to have too many ideas for just one film. Taylor’s other works, such as The Intruder and Black and Blue, were sleeker and more streamlined high-concept projects; With “Fear” it feels like he’s throwing everything on the wall – thematically and aesthetically – not to see if it will hold up, but because he’s so enthusiastic about doing everything. However, the over-the-top script doesn’t go deep enough into the characters or let anything breathe.
Deadliest of all, “Fear” just isn’t scary. The jump scares don’t land, the fears themselves are all a bit silly and it feels like Taylor is holding back for most of the runtime. An hour later, the set-up is still ongoing as Rome sifts through old photos and makes connections the audience has never been privy to. We’re both ahead of these characters who are a bit too dumb to cheer for (with the exception of Bianca, who is an excellent “Final Girl”), while playing catching up. It only starts to tear in the last few minutes when the movie should have been unleashed all along.
Ultimately, Taylor’s goal with “Fear” is to argue that we shouldn’t let fear rule our lives, but he doesn’t even show why, instead of simply reiterating it. But in the face of a global pandemic, the film proves otherwise — in moderation, fear can be a good thing.
Katie Walsh is a film critic for the Tribune News Service.
Rated: R, for bloody violence and speech
Duration: 1 hour 40 minutes
To play: Launches January 27th in general release
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2023-01-26/review-fear-deon-taylor-pandemic-covid-horror “Fear” review: COVID horror over the top