Review: Horror Film Documentary FEAR ITSELF

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SHOCK reviews horror movie doc FEAR ITSELF.

FEAR ITSELF is a documentary by British filmmaker and Guardian columnist Charlie Lyne, a three-time Hot Docs and SXSW presenter. At the recent Hot Docs premiere in Toronto, when Charlie took the stage, looking all of his 20 something years of age, I was taken aback by how much he had accomplished for someone so young. Now, while I loathe people that equate age with experience, in this case I think it is fair play. This film felt like a very lackadaisical school project that was given high praise by the parents of the student in question. It is not a film for anyone who has an interest in or any knowledge of horror, documentaries or horror documentaries. The film is simply approximately 90 clips of horror films from the early 20th century to 2014 accompanied by a monotonous narration. It plays like the kind of documentary that people cite when they say they don’t like documentaries because they are hokey, pretentious and unenjoyable.

The female storyteller drones about of lying in bed, and perusing the internet all night, and explains that watching horror movies has become her life after……..the accident.  Right there I felt the ship sinking. The narration kills any flow or pacing the film could have had that would at least have injected some motion or life into to it. It was plodding, vapid and wrought with cheesy analogies to the extent that it felt as if the filmmaker wanted me to tune it out and just watch a “horror through the ages” montage for 90 minutes.

On a more positive note, FEAR ITSELF is cool if  one can accept it simply as a collection of horror movie clips from a wide variety of films from different eras and global locations. Many clips from foreign films piqued my interest, however, I would have liked to see the English translation of those titles so I could see some of them in their full form. I was also reminded that I have been meaning to re-watch NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, so it has that going for it.

Horror films are always polarizing. People love them or hate them. In this case, the usual thrilling and exciting exploration of our fears is so reduced that the doc appears unbelievably dull and pedestrian.

The synopsis for FEAR ITSELF explains: “Constructed entirely from existing films, Fear Itself is a personal journey through fear and cinema that asks whether horror movies know us better than we know ourselves. Fear Itself is a personal journey through fear and cinema that asks whether horror movies know us better than we know ourselves.” Sounds interesting on paper right? Yes, it does. There are so many interesting ways that the doc could have been executed to achieve that level of fear but the direction it took in sum was disappointing.

Documentaries are a great tool to entertain, uncover truths, enlighten, profile etc. The end goal should be to leave the audience with either a greater knowledge of the topic, an entertaining vantage point, or to inspire them in some way, a few of the factors that make the documentary format such a great platform for filmmakers. It is mind-boggling how none of these boxes were ticked off in FEAR ITSELF. It felt less like a documentary, and more like listening to someone who loves the sound of their own voice thoughtlessly talk at at you for the length of a feature film.  I learned nothing, I gained nothing, I was not entertained and I left feeling frustrated.