United Kingdom. Directed by Jeremy Lovering, 2013. Starring Alice Englert, Iain de Caestecker, Allen Leech. 85 minutes.
Tom (Ian de Caestecker) and Lucy (Alice Englert) are heading up to Ireland for a weekend music festival. It’s their first trip together as a couple, and Tom booked a room at the secluded Kilairney House Hotel to mark the occasion. Problem is, they can’t seem to find the place: the signs contradict each other, the map is no help, and their cell-phone reception is poor. Weirder things begin to happen as day turns into night, and it soon becomes clear that someone is fucking with them. Who are they, and what do they want?
I’ll get the plot out of the way first, because it’s the weakest aspect of the production. The script, written by Jeremy Lovering (who also directed), is a familiar slice of middle-of-nowhere horror. This is not a film that remixes its tropes in new and novel ways; instead, it telegraphs early on what kind of movie it is, so once you’ve you know what you’re in for, you can adjust your expectations, settle in and enjoy. Lovering offers no surprises, and the one thing he offers that comes anywhere near to being a plot twist is so obvious that I’m not going to feel bad about spoiling it. This may seem a dire flaw in the production but it isn’t really. While the characters suffer from the occasional bout of Stupid Horror Movie Character Behavior Syndrome and the first act drags on a bit too long, Lovering keeps the beats coming at a steady pace so the suspense rarely lets up.
Plus, the other strengths of the film more than make up for the story. The performances are all very strong. The standout is Allen Leech, who plays Max, a young local who seems to know what’s going on. It will shock absolutely no one that Max turns out the villain of the piece, and he digs into the role with relish. Max is a sick sociopathic fuck who gets off on screwing with people’s lives, and Leech knows how to play the role and be the most memorable character in the film without going over the top and stealing scenes from the stars.
One of the things that comes from a story with a bad guy like Max is that the protagonists, almost by necessity, are less interesting as characters but Englert and De Caestecker have an easy chemistry with each other that compensates for that. In the past, I’ve been very cynical about the effect the widespread adoption of the Final Girl trope has had on the genre, but Englert embodies the grit, determination, relatability and charisma that made that archetype so powerful to begin with.
To top it all off, Lovering’s direction is excellent. The control he exerts over the physical environment amazed me; he makes the warren of barely-paved back-country roads feel constricting and claustrophobic during the daytime scenes and like an infinitely expansive labyrinth in the dark. He also brings a lot of atmosphere to the proceedings. There were one or two scenes where I don’t think his visual storytelling was coherent enough, but overall this is a fine début.
In Fear is the horror-movie equivalent of comfort food. That might not seem the most enthusiastic endorsement, but think of it this way: sometimes you’re in the mood to try something new, bold and different, and sometimes a taste of the familiar is exactly what you need. And that’s what the film provides: a classic story told well.