Judge Jason Panella is in a perpetual state of terror.
"We're not lost."
When it stays simple, In Fear is terrifying.
Facts of the Case
To celebrate two weeks as a couple, Tom (Iain De Caestecker, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and Lucy (Alice Englert, Beautiful Creatures) book a room at a rustic inn while en route to a music festival in Ireland. But a series of events put the couple in a deadly situation, and they learn about how people act when fear overwhelms them.
Have you ever driven on an unlit country road at night? For hours on end? With the hand on your car's fuel gauge hovering near "E"? While lost? I think the more times you answer "yes" to these questions, the better chance you'll appreciate In Fear, the debut feature from British director Jeremy Lovering (Sherlock). It's a small-scale movie that uses its handful of actors well, despite the fact that the film really works best as a mood piece.
In Fear takes the sort of uneasiness people feel when in out of the ordinary situations. I've been lost before on creepy rural roads, and I was genuinely scared. Why? It's the unknown of the situation—you see something move just at the edge of the headlights, or hear a branch crack somewhere over your shoulder. It's most likely wildlife or the wind. But is it? Really? Lovering, who also wrote the film, puts two very different people in that exact situation and slowly turns up the intensity.
For the most part, it works. I like it when thrillers and horror films take their time to establish the situation, character, and atmosphere, and In Fear does just that for the first 45 minutes. We don't learn a ton about Tom and Lucy, but we still get a sense of how they interact as a couple and how they react to unexpected situations. Lovering gave the actors ownership of the roles, so significant chunks of the movie were filmed with no script. De Caestecker and Englert do an admirable job, too—their shocked or nervous reactions at some points are genuine, since they often didn't know what Lovering and the crew had in store for them when the camera was rolling. The cast really does a nice job once fear becomes the impetus for many of their actions—they make their characters believable, especially since real people do frustrating things in abnormal situations.
Lovering uses the setting well too, almost like another character—he makes the couple's sedan feel restrictive, and the wonderfully claustrophobic filming locations wrap around each other like a maze. The camera work is pretty impressive, too. Lovering makes great use of the darkness; it crowds in, like it's pushing the two actors toward the center of the screen.
What makes In Fear frustrating is that the film shifts dramatically in the final third into a much less interesting movie. The eerie tension and ambiguity mostly make way for slasher movie cliches. I don't necessarily think it's bad (and I think a lot of viewers are going to like the final third a lot more than what preceded it); it's just a letdown after how well the film capitalized on the simple chills early on.
Anchor Bay's Blu-ray treatment of In Fear is competent, but that's about it. The audio is worth the most praise; the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track handles dialogue nicely, but really lets loose when background noise is involve: car alarms, snapping twigs, shoes scuffing against loose gravel. The 2.35:1/1080p high def transfer is passable—it's not as sharp as it could be, but it looks particularly good in a few near-pitch-black scenes. There's only one extra, a "Making Of" featurette (12:50).
Jeremy Lovering's feature debut may be flawed, but it's an incredibly promising start. If you like your horror rooted in the everyday, In Fear is worth a look.
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