Boo!

From France, Fear(s) of the Dark is a nightmarishly entertaining collection of short films on a theme of fear animated in beautiful black and white by six renowned graphic artists including Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre de Sciullo, Marie Caillou, Lorenzo Mattotti and Richard McGuire. Like many such omnibus efforts, some of the segments are better than others and the overall film isn’t completely satisfying, but the high points are strong enough to make the whole thing worth seeing. Though most animation in the United States is aimed at children, be advised that Fear(s) is definitely for adults.

It begins promisingly with the first of a series of vignettes from Blutch featuring a ghoulish 18th century French aristocrat led by a pack of vicious, snarling hounds. Dialogue free and rendered in a scratchy, charcoal-lined style, the vignettes are essentially plotless but macabre and kind of horrifying. They fill the gaps between some of the other shorts and conclude with a blackly comic twist.

Better still is Charles Burns’ genuinely creepy mixture of body horror and relationship fear. It follows a young man from a boyhood collecting strange insects to his college years as a socially awkward science student whose first explorations of love and lust turn into obsession and horror. Burns’ clean, high-contrast illustrations belie the creeping sense of unease that grows as the strange story plays out to its squirm inducing conclusion

Best of all is the concluding piece by Robert McGuire. Beginning with a figure seeking shelter in a snow storm, it’s a sort of haunted house in the middle of nowhere number that thrills more by what it doesn’t show than by what it does. Beautifully drawn in a grayless black and white, it’s a battle between light and shadow with shadow usually winning. Frequently illuminated from a single light source, a candle or a flickering fire, the refugee is a jumble of nervous highlights stumbling his way around the house with the increasing conviction that he’s not alone.

In between the longer stories (and in one case providing a break in the middle of one) are a series of Pierre de Scullio’s shifting abstract geometric patterns accompanied by the voice of a woman recounting some of her banal fears. These aren’t very interesting and, combined with the weaker entries by Marie Caillou and Lorenzo Mattotti, they tend to sap the momentum of the overall piece.

Ultimately, the whole of Fear(s) of the Dark may be a bit less than the sum of its parts, but several of those parts are so good it’s still worth seeking out. The Burns and McGuire numbers especially combine idiosyncratic visual styles with stories that effectively poke and prod at our unspoken fears. The result: some fun, low-key thrills that might just be the perfect Halloween antidote to another tired entry in a certain sadistic horror franchise.

Fear(s) of the Dark opens in New York on Wednesday (10/22) and in limited release on Halloween.

Fear(s) of the Dark [Peur(s) du Noir]. France 2008. Written and directed by Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou & Romain Slocombe, Richard McGuire & Michel Pirus, Lorenzo Mattotti & Jerry Kramsky and Pierre di Sciullo. Edited by Celine Kelepikis. Artistic direction by Etienne Robial. Music scores composed by Rene Aubry, Laurent Perez del Mar, Boris Gronemberger and George VanDam. 1 hour 22 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA. 3.5 stars (out of 5)

14 Responses to “Review: Fear(s) of the Dark (2008) *** 1/2”

  1. Interesting. Looking forward to seeing the film and then reading your review fully.

  2. Nice! Most of these films comprised of smaller films have strong links and weak links, and I totally love them for that. Everyone has their own favourite segment and all that, its just an interesting way of filmmaking. Hopefully I can see this one soon.

  3. One thing I loved about Paris je t’aime is that the parts actually added up into something bigger even if I didn’t enjoy each and every segment. Fear(s) doesn’t quite manage that but I still liked it.

  4. Nice that you were able to get the jump on that Wednesday opening in NYC!

    My heart almost stopped when I read through the names of the six graphic artists and came upon “Pierre de…….” You know who I was gleefully thinking of there, don’t you!

    The McGuire piece–“beautifully drawn in a grayless black and white, it’s a battle between light and shadow, with shadow usually winning” and Burns’ “clean, high-contrast illustrations belie the creeping sense of unease that grows as the strange story plays out to its squirm-inducing conclusion.”

    Terrific writing there.

    Definitely a great Halloween feature, I am very tempted to take my kids over to the Film Forum this week, as I see it opened there today.

    I completely agree with your assessment of PARIS JE T’AIME.

  5. Why Craig, what certain sadistic horror franchise might you be referring to?

    Fingers crossed this opens in my area, but I won’t hold my breath. I agree, Craig, that these compilation efforts always disappoint on some level – there is simply no replacement for a single, unifying vision from a brilliant director. However, it’s too bad we don’t get more films like this that take risks. I was intrigued by the trailer, and it’s good to know from your review that there are segments worth seeing. Also good to know that I should hamstring my expectations a bit.

    I think the best compilation film I’ve ever seen is 3 Extremes. Although each of the stories were quite disparate from one another, the entire work felt like it had a unifying theme of quiet dread. I’m not eager to revisit it, either, so it had some kind of effect on me.

  6. “Pierre di Sciullo”

    Naturally I’ll have to check this one out as one of its contributors is a namesake.

    “My heart almost stopped”

    Sam — pleez up your meds! We don’t want to lose you!

  7. Sam it might be a bit intense for the kiddies and one segment even has cartoon nudity. Depends on the kids of course, but it’s definitely aimed at adults.

    Evan. Yeah I’m taking a glass-is-half-full approach to this one. Instead of getting bogged down in the entries that didn’t move me, I’d rather focus on the ones that did. It’s fair to say too that different folks will be attracted to different segments.

  8. LOL Pierrre!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hahahahaha.

    Craig: thanks for the heads up with the kids. I may have to re-think my plans now for certain.

  9. This probably will never play here, and I generally stay away from horror films, but I’m intrigued by this one because of the animation and the inventiveness of its authors. Will at least see it on DVD. That way I can pause it (or put the DVD in the freezer) if anything gets too scary for me. I’m such a wimp.

  10. I should probably add in the review that it’s for adults…I took it for granted.

    Hahah JB. this one is pretty low key horror if you ask me. More creepy and unsettling than outright horrifying. DVD would actually be perfect because you can skip past the ones that don’t work for you.

  11. Craig, when you saw this movie were the subtitles white with no stroke or drop shadow on the text? Because I nearly walked out of the theater at the halfway point when it became clear that I would miss a good 50% of the dialogue in this collection. I did an online search and saw only one complaint about it, but the print I saw was had entire sections where the subtitles were unreadable.

    Anyway, what I saw was beautiful and the final sequence definitely was the best, as Craig stated, but the others left me cold (especially the Marie Caillou entry, which was just wrong). I wish I had seen it on DVD, where I likely could select proper subtitles or watch it dubbed in English. The animation deserved my full attention anyway. Oh well, we can’t have it all.

  12. I don’t remember there being a problem with the subtitles. That’s a shame.

    I figured with your appreciation of animation that you’d like it a bit better than you did, but I can’t deny some of the pieces really sucked the air out of hte room. On balance as I said in the review though, I think the good outweigh the bad.

  13. I’m seeing this today, looking forward to it for sure. Better late than never.

  14. stop by and let me know how it goes over. A couple of the pieces have really stuck with me. Others…not so much.

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