In Fear, the debut feature from British director Jeremy Lovering, is cut from similar cloth to James Watkins’ gruelling Eden Lake. Like that 2008 movie, and most famously like Deliverance before them both, the narrative hinges on cocky urbanites coming a cropper during a break in the country.
And like those two earlier movies, you can choose the message you want to take away from the film. Is it a lecture about smug latte-sippers getting what they deserve for being so smug and sipping so many lattes? A warning about how the provinces are filled with maniacs driven to sadism by their lack of access to modern art galleries and pop-up sushi bars? Or some combination of both?
Using his own story as basis, which itself was inspired by a sign-swapping practical joke played on him during a trip to Ireland, Lovering took an unusual approach to making In Fear. Though a shooting script was written, lead actors Alice Englert (who plays Lucy) and Iain De Caestecker (who plays Tom) weren’t allowed access to the full plot, instead semi-improvising their roles within the given parameters of individual scenes.
The result for Lovering was over 50 hours of footage to edit down to 85 minutes, a process he’s compared to doing a jigsaw without the box picture to guide him. The result for audiences is a rather effective evocation of the fear of the unknown – here manifested in that most universal of terrors, the dark.
Filming at close quarters in the car which becomes Lucy and Tom’s prison as well as their sole, dwindling hope of escape, the Irish countryside outside often remains shrouded in the complete blackness of night, aside from the strip of road illuminated by the headlights’ beam. And just like the ominously empty space lurking behind the horror protagonist creeping round the haunted house, so In Fear puts you on-edge as you wonder and worry about what menace the beam will alight upon at any second.
The film’s skill in evoking the creeping unknown, however, also proves a weakness in its second half. When the nature of the threat becomes clearer, a good deal of the tension drains away, leaving a solid but significantly less white-knuckle thriller.
From a narrative point of view, Lovering comes up trumps in his decision to make Tom and Lucy virtual strangers, thereby allowing ambiguity and suspicion to taint their relationship. But the film is often too pat in its overweening desire to implicate the young couple in their own ordeal.
There’s an alienatingly moralising, almost Calvinistic strain to the storytelling, suggesting they bear responsibility for the nightmare they find themselves embroiled in. This subtext is indicative of a general lack of affection for the characters, and in turn prevents you from becoming too sentimentally attached to them, or from giving too much of a flying cowpat as to their ultimate fate.
In Fear is released in the UK on 8th November