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)
Filed under: Review
Tags: Blutch, Boris Gronemberger, Celine Kelepikis, Charles Burns, Etienne Robial, Fear(s) of the Dark, George VanDam, Jerry Kramsky, Laurent Perez del Mar, Lorenzo Mattotti, Marie Caillou, Michel Pirus, Pierre di Sciullo, Rene Aubry, Richard McGuire, Romain Slocombe