Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Get in the holiday spirit with these horror anthology films, which offer several scary stories for the price of one.
Fear often means something very different when applied to horror cinema. Whereas normally “fear” can be used to designate just about anything that causes apprehension or stress (fear of your work performance review, fear of your significant other breaking up with you), horror is largely a manifestation of irrational fear—or rather, rational fears taken to an irrational degree. It’s understandable to have a fear of, say, spiders, but in horror, this becomes grist for something like Arachnophobia. Most of us fear violent crime, but it becomes horror when it goes from Goodfellas (a violent crime flick) to The Strangers (violent crime in the context of horror).
Fear(s) Of The Dark takes those fears that are often found in horror—monsters, nightmares, wild animals, dark and empty houses—and threads them through with the everyday fears of contemporary life, albeit a very French conception of life. Made up of four animated shorts (and a fifth interspersed among the others), these brief stories receive periodic interruptions by a disembodied woman’s voice, paired with abstract animations. She holds court on the kinds of worries that might possess the average person: Fear of acceptance, ending up alone, death, society, etc. (And make no mistake, these are also the fears of someone who takes left-wing politics for granted: The fears she lists include getting more conservative with age, environmental devastation, unhealthy eating habits, and more.) And while that strategy certainly undercuts the kind of emotional investment usually entreated by fiction, it also lends an intriguing aura to the shorts, situating them somewhere between narrative and free-floating daydreams.
A different graphic artist wrote and directed each section, but they’re all depicted in stark black and white, and all for the better. The most traditional tale comes from Charles Burns, who offers a first-person account of a shy young man who falls for a woman, only to have something from his childhood intrude upon his happiness, to horrific (and ickily unsettling) results. Marie Caillou directs a more ambiguous chronicle of a young Japanese girl forced via medical procedure to relive her nightmares. Lorenzo Mattotti depicts a young boy in rural France whose uncle and friend disappear, and suspicions fall upon a mysterious beast said to roam the countryside. A recurring wordless story from French comic artist Blutch finds a creepy man slowly unleashing his four wild dogs on innocent victims, one at a time. They each have their strengths, though none are particularly nerve-shredding.
It’s not until the final section, by Richard McGuire, that we approach something resembling a traditional scary story. A man caught in a blizzard seeks refuge in an empty and pitch-black house. The only light on screen provided by matches, candles, or other tools, the nameless protagonist can barely illuminate a few feet in front of himself. As he investigates the house, he soon begins to fear he might not be alone, though it could be his paranoia driving him past the point of reason. Again, the lack of dialogue amplifies the tension, generating the first real suspense of the movie. Fear(s) Of The Dark gains strength from the minimalist beauty of its black-and-white narratives, the thoughtful and evocative balancing of the elegant and artistic with the almost absurd listing of fears too typical to be scary. By never letting you forget what day-to-day fears really sound like, the movie ends up linking its more fantastical scares to the standard concerns of life. It suggests, quite clearly, that more extreme terrors aren’t as far removed as we may think.
Availability: Fear(s) Of The Dark is available on DVD from Netflix, Amazon, or possibly your local video store/library. The entire film is also available to stream on YouTube, though you may need to do a little searching to find one with English subtitles.