MPI // 2007 // 83 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // October 30th, 2009
A film by six of the world's best comic and graphic artists.
A dark and gothic exercise in graphic design, Fear(s) of the Dark brings together a cabal of animators to terrorize your brain with eerie tales of dread. If you like your animation black-and-white and your horror in the style of Edgar Allen Poe, this should be right up your alley.
Hailed as a visually stunning and unsettling anthology in modern animation, artistic director Etienne Robial brings together six of the world's best comic and graphic artists -- Blutch, Charles Burns, Pierre di Sciullo, Marie Caillou, Richard McGuire and Lorenzo Mattotti -- to create a black and white journey straight into the realm of fright. This is their stark and naked world of phobias, nightmares, and shadows, of strange noises, slimy bugs, and dead things. A creepy and kinky ride inside what makes our skin crawl and keeps us awake at night -- dare you watch it alone?
Peur(s) du noir, as it is known in its native French, is the animated equivalent of a horror anthology, full of crawling insects, prowling ghosts, creaking doors and chattering teeth, woven together in an abstract fashion. The end result is visually striking and a testament to the skill of the collected designers and animators, but horror fans will likely be unsatisfied.
It is impressive how much Fear(s) of the Dark resembles a comic book. Composed entirely in black-and-white, the high contrast film is like watching a graphic novel come to life, resplendent in motion and poise. Make no mistake, this is a smart-looking film, with each of the animators bringing a unique visual aesthetic to their work. If nothing else, this is an impressive showcase of the talents of its assembled talent pool. The features range from straightforward tales of macabre and mystery and dialogue-free mood-driven narratives, to eccentric and introspective hallucinatory computer animated compositions. The only prevailing theme is that of fear, be it literal or metaphorical.
It's challenging to pick a favorite from the six short films, although audiences should easily unify behind their vehement dislike for the computer animated entry by Pierre di Sciullo, which amounts to nothing more than a nauseating, Rorschach-esque undulating shape sequence, narrated by a whining voice griping about anxieties and fears. This piece is interjected at regular intervals between the five main narrative features, and is as oblique as it is irritating. Blutch contributes a hand-drawn segment that most closely resembles a piece of hand-crafted work, full of charcoal lines and pencil marks, entirely free of dialogue, in which a rich nobleman and his hellish dogs set loose upon the country side. Lorenzo Mattotti also offers up traditional animation with stylized dramatic landscapes and shadows, in a tale of childhood memory and murder. Richard McGuire and Charles Burns both present high-contrast pieces, entirely composed of black and white -- McGuire's is about a man trapped in darkness and taunted by invisible forces, while Burns' focuses on a bookish nerd who finds love in the arms of a woman...and something entirely unexpected. Marie Caillou takes the computer approach with her anime-inspired, paper styling of repressed memory and Japanese ghosts.
On second thought, it's not that challenging to pick a favorite: Richard McGuire's composition of shadow and angular art is the best of the bunch.
When taken as a whole, Fear(s) of the Dark is something of a mixed bag. The art is stupendous, but the narratives are disjointed and confusing, less a cohesive cinematic project than a stylish resume reel of talented artists. Each work stands on its own, but together there is little in the way of symbiotic improvement. Still, there should be something here for everyone, running the horrific gauntlet of horror styling, mashing up Cronenberg and Kafka, with Poe and Lovecraft, and a dash of Twilight Zone for good measure. With a runtime of barely 80 minutes, this is the perfect length for such an ambitious project. Any longer and the film would implode. Any shorter and it would shortchange the artists.
As one would hope, the DVD exhibits this high-contrast animation with near-reference quality, at least in terms of black and white levels. The blacks are deep and rich with no crushing, the whites shockingly bright and clean, and all manner of grey levels weave and bob with nothing in the way of print damage or compression artifacts to mar the image. Edges are crisp, with acceptable sharpness throughout, and no noticeable grain. The true appeal is the artwork and it's refreshing to find a film that respects and understands this need with a superb visual transfer.
Audio arrives in a 5.1 surround presentation in native French (with English subtitles). Volume levels are well-balanced across the shorts, each taking advantage of the sonic space in different ways. Dialogue is clear, but the more energetic stories use the rear channels for eerie environmental noises like creaks, moans, and so on, which heightens the fearful effect. Bass response is good, a hair over average expectation.
Extras are respectable for a single-disc release. We get an exhibition tour in Angouleme by Etienne Robial, about ten minutes in length; an extended module by Pierre di Sciullo (although why you'd want one, I have no idea); a sizable diaporama of working documents from the film, about twenty-five minutes worth; and some winning fan-generated videos from a MySpace contest, about nine minutes. It all wraps up with the French teaser and theatrical trailer.
The biggest flaw here (and this is being generous, like calling a missing wing a "flaw" in an aircraft design) is that Fear(s) of the Dark isn't scary. Not a bit. This DVD presents itself as being the ultimate in terror, but for most audiences, it will barely raise an eyebrow. Eerie, to be certain, but scary it is not.
Drawing inspiration from the literary tradition of horror gives this film a more cerebral, intellectual feel that may not satisfy the expectations of today's more eager horror fans. Simply put, if the idea of an animated homage to Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft appeals to your sensibilities, you'll be in good shape. This is horror, but in the pejorative sense of the word.
A stylish romp through the deep recesses of animation, Fear(s) of the Dark is visually robust and striking in its aesthetics, but never really evokes genuine fear. It's style and sophistication with no dramatic teeth and, as such, will probably be more appealing to graphic design and comic book geeks than horror aficionados.
Not scary, but still worth a look.
Review content copyright © 2009 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 83 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Films
* French Teaser
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site